Brett Shepherd, Group COO Infrastructure at VX Fiber
According to the Centre for Economics & Business Research (CEBR) as a direct result of Covid-19 we are seeing an emergence of three types of UK workers: those who mainly work in a workplace (e.g. an office); those who mainly work at home; and those who do a bit of both (also known as Hybrid working). As a result, by 2025 approximately 25 per cent of the UK workforce (6 million people) will be working from home on any given day. In 2019, according to the ONS, this figure was just over 5 per cent.
To sustain this exponential rise in home workers – and to meet the UK government’s desire for a productive, innovative workforce to help drive the economy – there will be heavy reliance on access to secure, stable and reliable internet connectivity at home. However, the latest OFCOM figures (Connected Nations and Home Broadband Performance reports) state only 12 per cent of UK homes (3.5 million) have access to full fibre broadband.
The UK government has pledged an ambitious target for ubiquitous full fibre connectivity across the UK by 2025. Over the past few months, we’ve seen a raft of new announcements showing that the government is continuing to play a vital role as a catalyst to achieving this deployment objective. These run alongside the positive steps that the government has made via funding schemes and with addressing policies/regulations that have acted as a bottleneck in deployment (e.g. the Barrier Busting Taskforce). In addition, the promised £5 billion for connectivity upgrades focusing on fast broadband access in harder-to-reach parts of the UK – and Ofcom’s four-point plan focused on tackling the remaining roadblocks to investment and supporting competition within the industry, will both have a positive impact on full fibre deployment.
In March, UK Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden announced new government legislation to ensure that all new-build homes will come with gigabit-speed broadband. Prior to the government’s new legislation, it’s fair to say that an increasing number of property developers were addressing this issue, specifying gigabit connectivity at the planning stage. But this can no longer be considered as just a gold standard, or as a nice-to-have for higher specification properties. Instead, it should be seen as an essential part of the value proposition of all new builds.
Then, as part of the COVID-19 ‘Build, Build, Build’ recovery plan announced in June, the government confirmed 300 “shovel-ready” schemes, agreed with mayors and Local Enterprise Partnerships – an ‘infrastructure revolution’ to boost economic growth by delivering jobs, skills and infrastructure across the country. However, only a limited amount of the £900m Getting Building Fund was allocated to gigabit broadband and full fibre networks.
Despite this, the industry continues to forge ahead to give the UK the connectivity boost it is crying out for, but, in all honesty, it’s likely the original 2033 target will be missed by a mile, let alone Boris’ pipe dream of 2025.
For the UK to achieve its ubiquitous full-fibre coverage target, there simply needs to be more collaboration and investment from both the public and private sector. Support is needed from other sectors of society and perhaps those who potentially will gain profusely from the socio-economic benefits connectivity brings.
At VX Fiber, we’ve been very vocal about the need to open-up third-party investment opportunities such as individual regional or local digital infrastructure projects, to multiple external investors in order to help back much needed fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) roll-out across the country. Not only does this present a huge and scalable opportunity, it will open-up a more sustainable territory for private investors while helping to power Britain’s race to deliver universal high-speed broadband.
This global pandemic has given us further proof of the intrinsic reliance we have on internet access and it couldn’t be any clearer that full fibre connectivity is by far one of the most important tools to help the UK economy flourish. But it’s the collaboration between the UK government, industry and the investor community that will help us get there, or certainly bring us a lot closer to achieving our digital destiny.