Openreach has continued to push forward in its GFast mission, announcing it will connect another one million homes in 81 areas across the UK by next summer.
Despite evidence pointing towards a fibre connectivity diet as the only future-proof solution, Openreach will add the horde of homes to the GFast connectivity frenzy, seemingly in an effort to create a halfway house for the on-going quest.
“Currently, the UK is a world leader in digital infrastructure and services, but as the digital revolution rushes forwards and the demand for data continues to grow, we need to sure we stay ahead of the curve,” said Kim Mears, MD for Strategic Infrastructure Development at Openreach. “That’s why we’re investing in faster, more reliable network infrastructure.”
What Mears actually means when she states the UK is a worldwide leader in digital infrastructure, is that we’re 32nd. According to the latest data from Speed Test, the UK sits in 32nd position with an average broadband speed of 53.95 Mbps over October. Countries which sit above the UK include Taiwan, Malta, Portugal, Iceland and Barbados.
Perhaps we shouldn’t complain too much as while 32nd doesn’t back up the claim of being a world leader, 53.95 Mbps will satisfy the connectivity diet of most average users today. But the issue is more about tomorrow.
The GFast rollout promises speeds of up to (that dreaded phrase) 330 Mbps, though this is feeble in comparison to those who are on a full-fibre diet. Again, 330 Mbps will certainly meet the demands of the majority for today’s use cases, but we have no idea what will emerge when the right environment is created and innovation nurtured. Take Uber for example, this is an idea no-one was considering when rolling out 4G networks, though it was a case of ‘build it and they will come’. The connectivity conditions were created and the idea emerged. The point here is that while 330 Mbps sounds fantastic today, it might be feeble tomorrow.
London, Leicester, Manchester, Worthing, Stoke, and Blackpool, are amongst the 81 locations, with the rollout working hand-in-hand with the fibre-to-the-premise expansion plans. Should the right investment conditions be present, namely untangling the bureaucratic red-tape maze and moving telcos over to the new platform, the team plan on extending the FTTP rollout to 10 million premises by the mid-2020s.
With the government compelling infrastructure players to meet the target of 15 million full-fibre locations by 2025, and pressure from alt-net providers such as CityFibre and HyperOptic, you have to wonder whether the GFast halfway house is just a distraction for Openreach. Should this be considered a case of temporarily meeting demands and delaying the inevitable backlash from self-righteous consumer groups and point-scoring politicians?