Full fibre connectivity has the power to transform how the UK lives and works. It has the immense potential to grow economies, create jobs, bolster productivity and provide remote working support. But to reap all these benefits, government bodies must work to build a digital infrastructure that will enable next generation connectivity.
In 2018, the then Secretary of State of the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport, Matt Hancock described full fibre connectivity as essential to driving a “competitive, productive, outward-looking economy.” Yet with full fibre available to only 3% of UK premises at that time, the nation was lagging far behind other European countries, who had already reached rates of 60-90%.
Recognising the gap, the Government committed to a bold promise of full fibre nationwide by 2025. It’s a goal that’s seen as essential to meet the growing data demands of consumers and businesses, and to support evolving telecommunications infrastructure, and technologies like FTTC/P. And a £5bn UK Gigabit Broadband Programme, announced in September last year, now aims to equip “every home” (5 million premises) with a 1Gbps capable connection by the deadline. Those ambitions have now been adjusted to a “minimum of 85% coverage” by the same date.
Clearly, the work to reach these targets is underway. However, with just 14% (4.2 million premises) of premises connected today, and recent reports that the 2025 target will be missed, it’s vital that everyone involved in the future of UK connectivity address the barriers that may delay roll-out. Not least because wider innovation, the need for more flexible remote working solutions, and Government goals around smart cities and improved public services – as well as better rural broadband – depend on it.
Through collaboration, partnership, and shared expertise we’ll be able to boost less economically advanced areas and deliver full fibre for the UK as a whole.
Reinventing cities and services
A full fibre future is a hugely exciting thing in so many areas of public life. From urban transformation, to greater efficiency in the delivery of services that millions of people depend on.
In the case of smart cities, for example, ultrafast connectivity will benefit everyone – citizens, businesses, and city planners. For the latter, it will open the door to the vast proliferation of IoT sensors and monitoring devices across everything from bins to streetlamps, making essential work like traffic management and refuse collection easier to understand and improve. While businesses will draw on better, more reliable connectivity to grow and invest.
But full fibre is not just about major urban areas. It will also help local government – where councils will be able to draw on easier, faster access to data to make better-informed, evidence-based decisions on a wide range of issues and developments that affect the local area, from planning permission to parking. And the initiatives they develop today can have the economic wellbeing of the city over the next 20-30 years in mind.
Yet for all the benefits of full fibre, it’s clear that without a collaborative, concerted effort, our collective goal of enabling these improvements won’t be realised.
Arriving at the future
To my mind, Government investment will be crucial in the run up to 2025 as we build on the accelerated momentum digital connectivity has gained in the last 12 months. Schemes funded by the Government like the Crown Commercial Service’s RM6095 agreement, which gives buyers in public sector organisations access to suppliers for fibre optic infrastructure services, are great examples of the work that is already being done to move towards gigabit connectivity.
But it’s more than just the Government at play here. Collaboration across the public and private sectors will likewise be crucial in achieving nationwide full fibre. Something we at SSE Enterprise Telecoms have experience of.
Aberdeenshire Council awarded us with a £10.5m full fibre contract last May, the work for which is now well underway. Spanning up to 275km, the end-to-end network will initially connect 190 public sector sites across the region and create a sustainable digital infrastructure that promises a huge boost to the local economy and life in Aberdeenshire.
As far as the public sector goes, bodies including Aberdeenshire Council, Aberdeen City Council, and NHS Grampian will all benefit directly as users of the network. As will the thousands of people they serve. In addition, SSE Enterprise Telecoms will further invest in the infrastructure, and offer capacity and services to businesses and internet service providers in the area.
It’s one example that shows how regional connectivity change and improvement, built on collaboration, can truly transform an area’s prospects even in these challenging times. Replicate that nationwide and full fibre will become truly transformative.
Can we meet the vision of full fibre?
A full fibre future benefits everyone in the UK, whether it’s through making work more efficient or enabling the advancement of smart cities with gigabit-powered public services. Yet cross-sector collaboration remains essential to achieving central government targets and supporting local government plans and ambitions. Particularly when the target is at risk of being missed.
Our focus at SSE Enterprise Telecoms is on helping our industry navigate the barriers to full fibre infrastructure by exploring innovative alternatives, from fibre in the sewers, to finding new ways to solve connectivity complexity. If we can all take the same approach, then we will achieve the target. And will soon see the tangible benefits of smart cities and better local government, powered by new digital infrastructure.
Download our connected cities eBook to learn more about the opportunities & challenges in developing smart cities, and how we can help enable your digital infrastructure plans with full fibre and 5G connectivity.