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Post UK-election results: The politics of full-fibre

Mikael Sandberg, Chairman, VXFIBER

When it comes to the internet, the UK is in the slow lane. Despite being the world’s fifth-largest economy, it ranks 35th out of 37 countries for the proportion of fibre in its fixed broadband infrastructure. Perhaps, as of last Friday, the UK’s choice to continue with a Conservative Government means these figures are close to change. With Boris Johnson having previously emphasised the importance of installing full-fibre, we expect the future of connected Britain to be a main priority for the new Government.  

‘Get Brexit Done’ has been Johnson’s mantra during the lead up to yesterday’s election and the strong Conservative majority certainly suggests that the agreement will be one he has negotiated. With Brexit taking centre stage, we must ensure that the UK has all the tools necessary to remain a competitive market worldwide. Seemingly, Boris is providing crash-mats and one of these will be his guarantee to provide 100% fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) by 2025 – a move that will attract and retain businesses as well as revolutionise the new digital era. With all the buzz around Brexit, it’s not surprising that the importance of deploying full-fibre is currently more softly spoken. However, moving forward, there is a unique opportunity to get Britain connected to support the new digital industrial era in which we – and the rest of the world – is embarking on.

Currently, fibre services work through cables connected to roadside cabinets, which have copper cables connected to our homes. Full-fibre delivers ultrafast broadband via a fibre optic cable not just to the cabinet down the street but straight into your home. This is the fastest and most reliable broadband technology but, as per OFCOM’s latest figures on FTTH, so far only 8% of the UK has access to it. Mainly, because providing the infrastructure – digging up and replacing copper with fibre optic cable – is expensive and involves a lot of work. However, it will mean speeds of more than one gigabit per second, 20 times faster than the UK average.

Prioritising fibre means so much more than relegating slurring Skype calls to the past. Future-proofing nations to keep up with the digital revolution is something that will bring untold positive economic and socio-economic impacts. To be able to take advantage of emerging technologies such as AI, robotics and machine learning, we must take the leap and reap the benefits of what a ‘smart city’ has to offer us. It is not surprising then, that the Conservatives have such a highlighted focus on the roll out of full-fibre as it could contribute to resolving a host of items on the UK government’s agenda.

The concept of smart cities is a far more relaxed utopia than sci-fi films would have us imagine. These new smart cities are getting communities and universities involved, alongside big companies and city authorities, to tackle serious issues such as improving poor quality housing, safeguarding local food supplies and transitioning to renewable energy. Although there is an important technology aspect, smart cities are about much more than the developments themselves, but what they can achieve by putting people first and solving challenges in society.

For example, education will be a major benefactor of digital developments. Remote learning will benefit massively and subsequently, so will education services for those where it wasn’t previously an option. Resources and teaching support can be made available online for those who are unable to travel every day to the classroom, unlocking the door to education for those who are keen to study whilst working full-time.

Connectivity acts as an enabler for smart healthcare as well. By allowing collected data to extract valuable insights, doctors can spend more time with their patients while the advanced software can assist in medical imaging and carrying out diagnoses by spotting abnormal patterns – even potentially spotting early signs of diseases such as cancer. Indeed, this is something that now sits on the horizon as the NHS’ recent launch of its AI lab is sure to revolutionise medicine as we have known it. Despite the turmoil of this year’s leadership race and the divisive nature of the pledges made, this new Conservative Government has many promises to fulfil. However, the nation’s demand for internet-reliant services will not change. Boris Johnson’s highlighted focus on infrastructure and increase in investment for the industry promises a unique chance for Britain to get connected and competitive for the future to come. Efficient roll-out of full-fibre connectivity is essential – not only to ensure commercial return but as an opportunity to solve socio-economic issues that we have been struggling with for years. For the UK, timely and cost-effective roll out of full-fibre is a mission of national importance.

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