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Gigabit Broadband: the network needed for a fair recovery

Openreach engineers Pete Martin (left) and Scott McFarlane (right) were recently awarded MBEs in the Queen’s birthday honours, for their roles in keeping the country connected during the lockdown. Scott camped out on a remote Scottish island to fix services for a vulnerable customer and GP surgery, while Pete went the extra mile every day to resolve escalations for NHS workers and vulnerable customers.


6 min read Partner content

Improving the UK’s digital infrastructure is an integral part of building back from the pandemic. But, do you know what it involves and how businesses and households can benefit?

With engineers working in every constituency to build and maintain digital infrastructure, Openreach has unique insight into the network and how it will serve the country for generations - both in cities and rural areas.

What’s the difference between superfast and gigabit speeds?

96.5% of the UK is covered by Superfast broadband. This is a hybrid copper/fibre connection provided by the green cabinets you see in the street.

Superfast provides download speeds of over 24 Mbps and meets most people’s current needs as it allows users to download and simultaneously stream TV, movies, music or games – it takes 6 Mbps to stream a Netflix movie. Approximately 14 million people in the UK have access to this service but don’t currently take it up.

A Gigabit service is capable of speeds of up to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps) and above. Gigabit speeds can be provided by a range of technologies, but the best is a Full Fibre connection as it is the most reliable and faults least.

Gigabit speeds are around 15 times faster than today’s average UK broadband speed meaning you can download a two-hour HD film in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea.

This network will support every aspect of our public services, businesses, industries and daily lives, keeping the UK at the forefront of digital growth. 

With data usage increasing by around 40 per cent every year and estimates that video will take up to 80% of all internet traffic by next year, a stable and fast connection will become increasingly important.

We welcomed the Government’s challenging manifesto commitment to “roll out gigabit broadband across the country by 2025”. 

This network will support every aspect of our public services, businesses, industries and daily lives, keeping the UK at the forefront of digital growth. 

However, it’s a complicated infrastructure project, second only to HS2 in terms of cost and can only be done with the support of Government and Ofcom.

What is Full Fibre?

Full Fibre, or FTTP (Fibre-to-the-Premises), is a gigabit capable network.  As well as being ultra-fast, it is ultra-reliable too. It’s a fibre optic connection running from a local exchange directly to the customer’s home or business.

Once installed, it can be upgraded without being dug up or replaced for decades – and unlike copper-based networks, it’s not affected by poor weather.

The extra capacity and reliability mean no more buffering or interruptions when everyone is using the connection at once. For example, a family of four can all stream ultra HD or 4k quality video simultaneously.

How do I know if I can already get Full Fibre?

Head to our website and enter your postcode to find details of the best available broadband we offer.

We’re only one of several companies building a Full Fibre network. 

However, we’re building further and faster than anyone. We can do this because of our investment in 12 engineer training schools across the country and by coming up with cost busting innovations and scouting the world for the latest tools and techniques.

We’re on track to reach 4.5 million premises by the end of March 2021 and 20 million by the mid-to-late 2020s (if the right policies are in place from Government and Ofcom).

This will require a run-rate close to 3 million premises a year.

We publish the locations we are building to on our website and think it makes sense for other companies to adopt a similar approach. 

Do I buy broadband from you?

No. We’re a wholesaler.

Homes and businesses purchase their broadband through one of the 650+ communication providers who run their services over our network.

How will we connect the hardest to reach premises?

The Government announced £5 billion to connect homes and businesses in the final 20% of the UK. The details are being worked through by DCMS

If we get the procurement process right and contracts can be agreed quickly, then the sector can start planning the network build, create thousands of new jobs, support more in the supply chain and begin connecting people – helping to level-up the UK. 

I have constituents living in rural areas, will they be connected?

We’ve announced that we’ll build to 3.2million premises commercially with FTTP in harder to serve parts of the UK, and our engineers are already working in Wales, NI, Scotland and England. 

We hope our considerable experience of building in rural parts of the UK (working with BDUK we’ve connected 5 million premises) will help us win some of the Government funding, so that we can carry on delivering in the hardest to reach areas. 

But that’s not all: we’re also building the new network using the Government’s Gigabit Connectivity Vouchers, through a scheme called Community Fibre Partnerships.

The Openreach team works with communities to apply for vouchers and we make a commercial contribution towards the build costs.  With over 100,000 premises already benefitting, this is a great way of Connecting Communities faster.

How can Full Fibre be built faster?

There are several barriers holding back the build rate, the main ones are:

(1) We need better access rights to enter blocks of flats or other multi-dwelling units (MDUs) - which make up around 15% of households in the UK. The delay in the parliamentary passage of the Telecoms Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill provides an opportunity to strengthen and extend it beyond the narrow focus on unresponsive landlords, whilst respecting property rights, to ensure no tenants are left behind.

(2) The current relief on Business Rates ends in 2022. If extended it could be worth the same value as three million premises being built.

Will Full Fibre help the economy and create jobs?

Yes.  Thousands of jobs could be created through the Full Fibre build programme, both directly and indirectly.

Expert research by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr) found that Full Fibre broadband could boost UK productivity by up to £59 billion by 2025 (£4.6 billion in Scotland, £2 billion in Wales and £1.3 billion in Northern Ireland). 

I’ve seen your vans, are you moving to greener vehicles?

We operate the second largest commercial van fleet in the UK. We currently have more than 70 electric vehicles on the road with the aim of being fully electric by 2030. That’s 10-20 years faster than the Government’s stated ambitions.

The move to Full Fibre will enable more people to reliably work from home, which could result in an annual reduction in CO2 emissions of 360,000 tonnes from fewer commuting trips.  

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