Last week, the government’s £400m Digital Infrastructure Investment fund went live. The fund is only available to support “full-fibre” projects.
By this we mean fibre all the way to the premises, not the watered-down version commonly offered by the likes of BT whereby the last few metres are delivered over copper phone wire, over 10 times slower than what’s possible over full fibre.
The fund is therefore geared towards cutting edge deployments and represents the start of a shift that will affect both the economy and British people in ways we are only just beginning to understand.
We currently have the lowest full fibre deployment in the OECD, with around two per cent coverage. Many nations are plowing billions into full fibre programmes, so by contrast this £400m is a small drop in the ocean. But given the difficult political climate it’s a very positive step in the right direction, and indicative that the government supports a full fibre future.
The Conservative manifesto outlined a commitment to ensuring that consumers and businesses have access to the digital infrastructure they need to succeed, with a clear path to national full fibre coverage over the next decade.
Digital minister Matt Hancock, who put forward his vision of Britain’s digital future in these pages last week, is fully on board, and has announced: “we want to see more commercial investment in the gold standard connectivity that full fibre provides.”
Government support is hugely welcome, but to truly fulfill our fibre future, we need to ensure that there is clarity in the market. This will give both consumers and businesses the opportunity to demand full fibre, and the means to know what they are really getting.
We recently met with the Advertising Standards Agency to outline this issue. The fact remains that the majority of UK households and businesses receive their broadband over networks that are only partially fibre, yet the incumbent internet service providers have been marketing their broadband products as “fibre” for years.
As full fibre becomes more readily available, it’s important that these products can be easily distinguished, so that consumers and businesses can make an informed choice.
With full fibre comes limitless potential. Startups and evolving businesses are succeeding through new models, which rely on real-time communications with suppliers and customers, data-driven cloud-based business processes, and high dependency on reliable, limitless broadband connectivity.
Without it, work can become impossible, and the business is unable to grow. In contrast, with gigabit broadband, businesses find that all these processes and interactions become instantaneous. It gives them an immediate and significant productivity boost, measurable in net profits.
In homes, full fibre broadband removes the barriers to how people work, play and communicate, empowering users to be more dynamic. Remote working is rising month on month. With standard broadband, doing so feels as if it would compromise productivity, or encroach on family time.
Full fibre is the future, but many already enjoy the benefits today. It’s a simple initiative, but one that can have huge consequences for the whole economy. With government support and market clarity we can achieve the vision of a “full fat” fibre Britain, faster. The days of half measure “diet fibre” are numbered.