The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer has said he wants to see full fibre to 15 million premises by 2025 but the CEO of Openreach thinks 10 million is more realistic.
Phillip Hammond was speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual piss-up and his general agenda seemed to be to show how much his government is helping the UK tech sector. There was lots of talk of public R&D spending and name dropping of emerging tech trends such as AI and autonomous vehicles.
“But we won’t be able to put the UK at the front of the pack unless we have infrastructure that is fit for the future,” he said, before equating fibre networks with the canals, railways and roads of the industrial revolution. “So I am now setting a new target to see full-fibre to the premises connections being available to 15 million premises, that’s the majority of homes and businesses, by 2025.”
Hammond conceded this is an ambitious target and that it won’t be achieved merely as a result of him setting it, but at the same time implied it won’t happen without government intervention. Sadly that’s all we got.
Precisely what the UK state will do to encourage the likes of Openreach to raise their game remains to be seen and it will probably take the form of further grandstanding at equivalent piss-ups in the intervening years. Apparently Matt Hancock will flesh the plan out later this summer, if he can find time away from protecting us from internet horridness.
Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach – the main fixed line infrastructure player in the UK – seems to think this target is over-ambitious. “We share the Chancellors’ full fibre vision for Britain,” he said, as he has previously. “This year we’ll double our FTTP footprint and by 2020, we will have built it to 3 million homes across the UK. We want to reach 10m premises by the mid-2020s, and believe we can ultimately fully-fibre the majority of the UK under the right conditions.”
Openreach currently has full fibre to around 500,000 premises so it will reach a million by the end of this year and then take over a decade to do another two mil. At that rate it seems highly unlikely that it will do another seven in five years, let alone 12, but hey, it’s just a target.