Broadband Connectivity

“Circular economy” needs Gigabyte Broadband Connectivity

Tratos authored a White Paper on the state of Britain’s Broken Broadband in a bid to hasten change. It was born out of frustration with the lack of forward momentum; frustration with an acceptance of an inadequate status quo despite the appeals from business and clear indications that slow broadband was a contributor to an economy doomed to run out of steam.

In common with other developed countries the UK’s broadband didn’t have a clear run at reaching speeds that would take the economy to the next level. Its fibre advances were held hostage by copper – a network that was old before fibre was conceived – and defended by the self-interest of big business.  

Fibre to the Home (FTTH) broadband doesn’t really exist in the UK. There are the privileged and proactive few who currently enjoy the speeds that many of our worldwide counterparts are achieving, but as a UK cable manufacturer Tratos has witnessed solutions, that are ready and available, being ignored.

A glimmer of light has come with the Government’s Conservative Party Conference pledge by Boris Johnson to usher in Gigabit Britain. Autumn 2019 saw him unveil a £5bn full-fibre broadband boost which would see full-fibre broadband roll out across the UK by 2025.

It’s a big and bold step forward, it’s necessary and it’s to be welcomed, but Westminster faces turbulent times ahead and the plan is as expensive as it is ambitious – and not yet delivered.  

Another welcome move came from BT boss Philip Jansen who outlined his company’s plans to switch off copper broadband services by 2027 in a bid to help speed up the full-fibre roll out.  But seven years is a long time and a lot can change as Britain continues to slide down the broadband speed league table.  

The UK is holding its ground, but still poorly placed compared to much of the EU according to research by Sweden’s decision to focus on FTTP (pure fibre) means around 60% of Swedish homes and businesses now have access to speeds of up to 1Gbps (1,000Mbps).  Jersey is the first jurisdiction in the world to make pure fibre (FTTP) available to every broadband user. Jersey’s jump from tenth to third in the international broadband speed league table shows that uptake has been healthy.

The top of the table is dominated by Europe, but emerging nations do well because they don’t have the hurdles of existing and ageing copper networks to negotiate. Of the top 50 countries, 37 of them are in Europe. Last year’s results placed the UK 35th in the world. This year the UK is 34th. 

The UK remains behind countries like Madagascar and two thirds of other EU countries.  

With the UK only just beginning to roll out FTTP (fibre to the premises, rather than FTTC – fibre to the cabinet), and with a number of other European countries already a long way ahead, it is likely that the UK is set for a big slide unless radical interventions, money and commitment to change by all stakeholders becomes a reality.

Tratos has fibre and the installation techniques that allow it to ‘piggy back’ existing cable or share other services’ routes into properties, and cable that is capable of carrying communication technology as well as power, knocking down arguments for continuing with copper.

`Broadbad’, a report backed by 121 cross-party MPs called for BT to be forced to sell the country’s leading broadband provider, Openreach (which was wholly owned by BT). It took until March of 2017 for Ofcom to announce that BT would legally separate from its Openreach subsidiary, describing it as a “significant day” for consumers.

In February 2018 BT promised it would accelerate the expansion of its high-speed fibre broadband network with plans to reach three million homes by the end of 2020, amid mounting pressure from regulators and politicians (there are about 25 million homes in the UK).

In its 2019 Annual Report Openreach said: “We want to build more Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) technology. It’s faster and ready for the future. And crucially, it’s more reliable. We’ve already reached well over 1.2 million properties with our full fibre network. We previously planned to bring fibre to three million properties by the end of 2020. Then in May 2019 we increased this target by a third. So we now plan to reach four million front doors by March 2021. But we don’t want to stop there. If the investment conditions are right, we want to reach 15 million homes and businesses by the mid-2020s. Ultimately, we plan to cover almost all of the UK. It’s an ambitious target. But we believe we can meet it.”

It’s a big shift and a welcome one. Tratos campaigned hard to push for closer scrutiny and pressure on monopoly providers to work for the common good.

As we began our campaign only 3% of UK homes had access to an FTTP connection compared with 79% in Spain.  More than three years on advances have been made, and the UK’s full-fibre broadband coverage has risen, but only to 8% according to Ofcom (September 2019).

That was around 400,000 UK properties gaining full-fibre for the first time over the first four months of 2019, Ofcom described it as a 1% gain.  It marks the scale of the work ahead if access ‘for all’ by 2025 is to be realised.

Broadband providers responded to the PM in an open letter, claiming that his target was possible, but only if four areas are given urgent consideration.  They outlined:

  • Planning reform – at present telecom providers need to get a type of permission known as a “wayleave agreement” to get access to land and buildings to install cables. But in many cases property owners are unresponsive. The industry wants ministers to force landlords to provide access if a tenant has requested a full-fibre or other connection be installed
  • Fibre tax – the so-called tax refers to the fact that fibre infrastructure currently has business rates applied to it, just like other commercial property. The industry claims this discourages investment and should be rethought
  • New builds – the government has carried out a consultation into whether new-build home developments must incorporate gigabit-capable internet connections but has yet to publish its response. In the meantime, the industry says too many new homes are still being developed without provision for fibre broadband
  • Skills – a large number of engineers will be required to carry out all the work involved. BT and Virgin Media have previously warned that Brexit could result in labour shortages. The industry says more money must be committed to training, and it must also be allowed to continue to “compete for global talent”

The letter, signed by the chair of the Internet Services Providers Association, the interim chief executive of the Federation of Communication Services and the chief executive of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association, calls for work to start immediately and warns that 100% fibre coverage requires a 100% commitment from government.

The technology has moved faster than anticipated and offers a tantalising glimpse of the possibilities for learning, business, connectivity and the economy.

Even investment three years ago, when our original White Paper was published, would still see Britain left lagging by up to seven years as it struggles to catch up.  Government has moved Broadband up the agenda, but we are starting the race late and heavily handicapped.  

Tratos is an innovation-led independent cable manufacturer that has a UK, European and global view of Britain’s position and calls for the government to continue its determination to push through all the steps needed to preserve the country’s position as a leading economic power.

Tratos is actively campaigning for change in the following areas:

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