Regardless of your view on the choice of the United Kingdom’s new Prime Minister, one key point to note from Mr Johnson’s victory speech today is his emphasis on the importance of “better infrastructure, more police, fantastic full-fibre broadband sprouting in every household” in order to restore optimism to the UK.
In my view, governments, organisations and investors who understand the interaction between digital infrastructure, electric vehicles, energy storage and smart mobility will be the ones to capitalise on the opportunities presented by our connected future.
Fibre optic networks will be the enabling infrastructure that will drive economic growth in the coming decade, and beyond.
However, in the UK next generation Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) coverage is far behind current world leaders like South Korea (at nearly 99% coverage), and the European leaders like Spain (71%), and Portugal (89%).
The cost of rolling out FTTP and supporting infrastructure needs to be tamed if the UK is going to come close to achieving its connectivity targets or catching its EU fellows. Running fibre and copper networks in parallel is expensive and inefficient. To stimulate demand for fibre and to enable new networks to achieve scale quicker, a ‘fibre switchover’ is necessary.
This is because full-fibre infrastructure is vital to underpin 5G coverage and not just in the UK.
In Europe, the UK must work harder to secure its role as a hotbed of infrastructure innovation and Mr Johnson, and future Prime Ministers alike, will have many challenges in ensuring a smooth, speedy and economical rollout.
For example, we are going to have to see new legislation and reforms to the regulatory environment for full-fibre that will drive investment and competition, and the switchover from copper to FTTP infrastructure will need to be industry led and coordinated with Ofcom, the regulator in the UK.
However, there will be some parts of the country where it will be unlikely that the commercial operators and their financiers will be able to deliver alone. According to DCMS, even if commercial operators achieve 90% coverage, additional funding from the government, to the tune of £3 – 5 billion, is likely to be needed to achieve nationwide full fibre i.e the final 10%.
We have been advising on several projects in the field, including with euNetworks and CityFibre, and can see that this is happening all over. Financial investors and equipment manufacturers we speak to have shown real appetite, provided telcos are willing to work alongside them.
So good luck, Mr Johnson, and I’m pleased that you made a nod to the importance of digital infrastructure, especially full-fibre broadband. It’s the only scalable economic solution to meet the hefty demands for connectivity in the first quarter of the 21st century.
The CMS global infrastructure report "Connected Future" contains some further food for thought.
And we are once again going to believe in ourselves and what we can achieve. And like some slumbering giant, we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity with better education, better infrastructure, more police, fantastic full-fibre broadband sprouting in every household.