Technology

Openreach mulls full fibre rollout for 10 million in UK

Optical fibres Image copyright Reuters
Image caption At present, many UK properties offered fibre connections still rely on copper cables for the "last leg" of the journey

Openreach, the body that runs the UK's fibre network, has opened discussions about rolling out super-fast fibre broadband to 10 million homes by 2025.

It wants to assess demand for such services and is calling for collaboration with other providers, government and Ofcom to achieve it.

Openreach, which has recently split from BT, had previously promised two million fibre lines by 2020.

Currently, only 3% of homes have access to full fibre broadband services.

During the time that Openreach was part of BT, it had always said that full fibre - known as fibre to the premises (FTTP) - was too expensive to be widely delivered.

But Clive Selley, chief executive of Openreach, said that new techniques now meant the company "had recently halved the cost of delivering full fibre".

"With the right conditions we believe we could make FTTP available to as many as 10 million homes and businesses by the mid-2020s, but we need to understand if there's sufficient demand to justify the rollout, and support for the enablers needed to build a viable business case.

"That includes removing barriers to investment and incentivising those, like Openreach, who are prepared to take a commercial risk."

'New-found enthusiasm'

FTTP is widely regarded as the best way to deliver fast broadband services.

Unlike fibre to the cabinet, which has been Openreach's preferred technology to date, it does not rely on a slower copper-based connection to connect local street cabinets to homes.

Full fibre networks are typically more stable, efficient and reliable, with customers experiencing fewer faults and more predictable speeds than with hybrid copper and fibre broadband technology.

They can also support broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps, which is enough to download an entire HD TV programme in five seconds.

Malcolm Corbett, who runs the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (Inca), believes the industry can reach about 80% full fibre coverage by 2026 without the need for major government subsidies.

But he added: "Regarding the Openreach consultation, one aspect that we think particularly important is that Openreach doesn't use their new-found enthusiasm for full fibre to try to re-monopolise local access networks."

Earlier this month, the government unveiled a £400m fund aimed at boosting the UK's fibre-to-the-home infrastructure.

The Openreach consultation asks for views to be sent in by the end of September.

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