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Stephen Holford

Steve Holford is Chief Customer Officer at Hyperoptic

We need to support the rise of “Gigabit Britain”

There is a global gigabit revolution in progress. Across the world, operators of all sizes are investing billions into the development of pure fibre telecoms infrastructure to support the meteoric growth of the world’s digital economy and mass digitisation of industries. Here in the UK, the shift to gigabit broadband has already begun – hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses already have access to gigabit broadband speeds. However, fast-tracking access to millions requires industry collaboration and government support.

Last month we joined forces with other companies that are focusing on rolling out full fibre (Fibre-to-the-Premises) broadband and our industry association, the Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA). We issued clear guidelines to the government of what we feel it needs to do to make Gigabit Britain a reality.

Driving the gigabit revolution

The market requirement for Gigabit Britain has become increasingly clear over the last couple of years. Far from being a frivolity, having a fast and reliable broadband connection enhances our quality of life. With more connected devices in our homes, the rise of multi screening, the shift to UHD streaming and the need to log into homeworking cloud-based apps, the Mbps required has hugely increased. The existing infrastructure cannot facilitate the demand of today, before you consider the fact that broadband data usage is doubling year on year, and by 2020 the volume of global Internet traffic is expected to be 95 times what it is now.

As well as satisfying current and future consumer broadband demands, enabling Gigabit Britain is a no-brainer for the economy. The estimated turnover of UK digital tech industries reached £161bn in 2014 and recent Tech City data outlined that the digital sector in the UK is growing over 32 per cent faster than the wider economy, and is creating jobs 2.8 times faster, too.

The global shift to Gigabit Nations

Given these clear market drivers, enabling Gigabit Britain must be a priority for the country. Last year the Internet economy contributed 10 per cent of the UK’s GDP and this growth will undoubtedly be hindered without the right infrastructure that will support and facilitate future innovation.

Deloitte Global predicts that the number of Gigabit connections will reach 10m by the end of 2016, and it predicts approximately 600m subscribers may be Gigabit networks 2020 – which represents the majority of connected homes in the world.

Currently UK currently has the lowest FTTP deployment in the OECD, with around two per cent coverage. The onus has to be on rising up the rank.

Call to UK government

There is a foundation in place to support the development of Gigabit Britain – a new government that says it is committed to implementing an industrial strategy, a Digital Economy Bill passing through Parliament and Ofcom laying the groundwork to introduce greater competition into broadband. But to build on this foundation we need more. Alternative network providers, without subsidy, have thus far driven the shift to Gigabit Britain. The efforts and investment that we are making must be supported.

Our first request to government is that it publicly supports FTTP full-fibre infrastructure, with the formation of an official Gigabit Britain Strategy. This needs to specify a target for the majority of the UK to have access to a FTTP connection by 2026 and near universal coverage by 2030. This central strategy must be locally reinforced, via encouraging the UK’s devolved administrations, cities and local authorities to create their own local Gigabit strategies, which should include exploring the feasibility of anchor tenancy arrangements and agreeing ways to bring gigabit services to council housing stock.

Secondly, we believe that it is only fair and just that the government creates and maintains an environment where the alternative network companies can compete, survive and ultimately thrive. To achieve this have advised it suspends all business rates on new fibre assets for the next ten years. We have also asked the government to develop regulation that both encourages both competition and continued private sector investment.

Lastly, we ask for market transparency. The market incumbents have been advertising their broadband products as ‘fibre’ for years. It’s time that there was clarity in the market. Services delivered over Fibre-to-the-Cabinet are inferior to those full fibre links delivered via FTTP – but when they are both called ‘fibre’ how can the user possibly know and understand this? To enable market transparency we have asked the government to commit to an overhaul of the current advertising guidelines, to give customers much-needed guidance on the connectivity quality they can expect.

Feedback from government

The initial response from the new minister of state for digital and culture, Matt Hancock, has been positive. At a recent conference he delivered a speech that confirmed he has received our recommendations, and that he agrees that fibre is the future. In his words “the future is about enabling gigabit speeds, and high quality connectivity across the country. Demand is only going to rise so we need to stay ahead of the curve… When it comes to fibre, it is a case not of if, but of when.”

He said that the government will support our vision for Gigabit Britain by ensuring the right incentives are in place and any barriers are removed.

This is encouraging. But the words need to be translated into action. Technology advances will not pause for procrastination – the faster we move, the faster the UK benefits. We have proven that FTTP is economic. The alternative network providers are already forecast to pass 4.9m premises, or 18 per cent of the UK population, with FTTP by 2020. We want to do this faster. We await definitive answers on our recommendations, which will finally make Gigabit Britain a reality.

Steve Holford, Chief Customer Officer at Hyperoptic

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