The UK's Chancellor Philip Hammond is to announce a range of digital networking investment initiatives this week that includes a £400 million (US$497 million) Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund to support new fiber-to-the-premises rollouts by alternative ultra-broadband network operators.
Set to be part of Hammond's 'Autumn Statement' that will be announced on Nov. 23, the pot of money, which will be made available to "emerging fibre broadband providers," is not just a handout to the network operators -- the "new fund will be matched by private finance," the UK government notes.
The aim is to boost the availability of FTTP connections that can enable Gigabit ultra-broadband speeds, with the government believing this initiative can take fiber past a further 2 million UK premises (there are currently fewer than 500,000 FTTP connections in the UK).
BT recently announced that it was stepping up its investments in FTTP, saying it would pass 2 million premises with FTTP by 2020. Its main ultra-broadband focus, though, is still on using G.fast to turbocharge its copper access lines. (See BT's Gigabit Plans & the UK's Digital Abyss.)
This new UK government fund, though, would be lined up for the alternative fiber access players such as CityFibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and B4rn, which can use all the help they can get as they seek to scale up and pass as many homes with their own fiber access infrastructure as quickly as possible. This could also prove to be a boost for rural communities that, so far, have largely been left in the cold when it comes to high-speed broadband services. (See UK FTTH Altnets Press for Gigabit Britain.)
It's a positive announcement for the UK broadband market but one that will not change the market overnight: Announcing the fund is one thing -- handing over the money is another. But if the fund is successfully tapped by the altnets, it will increase competition in the FTTP sector and put pressure on BT's Openreach division as it ramps up its own FTTP and G.fast investments.
The funding will also help support the 5G rollouts in the UK, as the high-speed, low-latency demands of next generation wireless broadband services, and the broad IoT coverage that will come with 5G's evolution, will require extensive fiber access networks that can offer sufficient backhaul capacity coverage.
In fact, the UK government's plans also includes a more extensive fund, valued at up to £740 million ($920 million), to support 5G pilots around the UK. (See Eurobites: UK Govt Pledges £740M for 5G Trials, £400M for FTTP.)
The new initiative was welcomed by Greg Mesch, CEO at CityFibre. In a company statement he noted: "As a pure fibre infrastructure pioneer and the company behind the UK's growing ranks of Gigabit Cities, CityFibre welcomes the Chancellor's support to accelerate the deployment of fibre and 5G to homes and businesses. Britain's industrial strategy needs a digital backbone, and it is essential that we move quickly to plug the UK's 'fibre gap' and empower our service-based economy. This new funding, stimulating competitive fibre rollout at scale by new communications infrastructure builders, is a catalyst for the delivery of the UK's fibre future."
The UK government is under increasing pressure to ensure that Britain is still able to attract investment and talent as the Brexit bandwagon rolls on, so with leading digital companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon all pledging to open new offices in the UK, this new government initiative looks like another step in the right direction.
— Elliot Richards, Senior Editor, UBB2020