Why the 2033 pledge could really be the 2023 pledge

In an effort to improve our national ranking of 35th in the global broadband league tables, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has pledged full-fibre broadband coverage to all of the UK by 2033.

According to the proposal, full-fibre broadband should be fitted as standard in all newly built homes as of now – something that we at SSE Enterprise Telecoms see as major positive. Not least because in 2017 we partnered with fibre specialists Grain to create a hyperfast, 1Gbps fibre-to-the-home network for a new housing development in Aberdeen.

What our work with Grain shows is that the connectivity is available as long as the infrastructure is in place. This particular deployment was possible because we provided a national fibre backbone that could support high speeds, while Grain’s expertise ensured that the hyperfast promise reached the front door of each resident.

We are aware, though, that this work was as much a case of futureproofing as it was serving the needs of residents there and then. Indeed, ultimately the need for fibre to the home at the moment is slightly premature, when in reality only high-usage businesses (and consumer power users) have a fundamental need for fibre connectivity today.

For me, this recent pledge envisions a 2033 tipping point, after which fibre will be a mandatory part of our lives. In reality, this end date could be a lot closer, despite the comparative lack of need right now, meaning that the copper that gives us what we need today, won’t be able to tomorrow.

As a rule of thumb, data use (across home broadband and mobile) is doubling every three years, but that’s in relation to the way we use it now. Estimates suggests that the average UK household could contain closer to 50 connected devices in the next five years, all vying for increasing bandwidth. We also need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that a service or application that hasn’t yet been created could increasingly demand our (currently limited) connectivity, way before the date of the 2033 pledge.

As a nation, we require a network that is scalable and upgradeable in a way that consumers can use it as soon as it’s needed, whenever that is. So, while this pledge largely relates to the access and provisioning of fibre at the ‘edge’ (consumers), the demands on the core (backhaul and aggregation as provided by the likes of SSE Enterprise Telecoms) can’t be underestimated.

Put simply, fibre cannot reach the home without a fibre backbone capable of supporting consumer usage. We’ve already recognised this, having recently announced details of the unbundling of 177 BT exchanges to meet the significant demand for high-capacity fibre connectivity and serve an additional 180,000 business postcodes across the UK – investment that will give us the capability to offer 100Gbps services.

This shows that we understand the important role we play in making connectivity possible, and are committed to recognising this through our own investment. Just as infrastructure providers and internet service providers must work in unison to get fibre connectivity to homes, we cannot forget the remote areas of the UK for whom such connectivity is currently a pipe dream. Major investment is needed to continue to incentivise the private sector to build in hard-to-reach areas so that the pledge is a reality for all. Fibre to the premise players must do their bit to ensure this connectivity reaches those who need it.

A full fibre future is a certainty. It’s essential to driving competition and national productivity. Everyone involved will need to play a part to create the world-class digital infrastructure that many envisage for the UK, while ensuring nobody is left behind.

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