Broadband is now an essential resource for any business – one that’s just as important as a water and electricity supply. Yet many connections are being held back by the fact they still rely on outdated legacy cabling to transmit data.
Even many connections sold as ‘fibre’ will in fact be what’s known as ‘fibre-to-the-cabinet’, which only runs the fast fibre-optic cabling as far as the local street-level cabinet, with copper covering the last mile to the home or business. This can limit the speed available to users and be a key pain point for many companies.
The solution to this – and what’s set to be the future of broadband in the UK – is full fibre. As the name suggests, this eliminates the final copper connection entirely and runs fibre directly to your door. But while this offers a huge speed boost over other technologies – with download speeds of up to 1Gbps available – only around one in ten premises in the UK has access to this technology.
This puts the UK significantly behind other European countries. However, efforts are being made to close this gap and encourage investment in the full fibre services today’s businesses need. To achieve this, Ofcom has recently proposed several changes to its regulations in order to incentivise the rollout of such services.
What’s in the proposed changes?
Ofcom’s proposals are broken down into four key points: improving the business case for full fibre developments, boosting competition, offering more support for rural areas, and the eventual closing of the legacy copper networks.
The first of these will involve changes to the wholesale prices Openreach is able to charge other providers. For instance, this will see the cost of entry-level superfast fibre capped to inflation. Ofcom will, however, be allowed to charge a small premium for regulated products delivered over full fibre, while its fastest fibre services will remain free from pricing regulation in order to support the investment race between network builders.
For rural areas where there is no economic case for multiple providers to build their own networks, Openreach will be able to recover investment costs across the wholesale prices of a wider range of services. This should reduce the risk of investment and encourage the rollout of full fibre services to areas that would otherwise be deemed unviable.
In the longer term, setting a retirement date for the UK’s copper network should give providers further incentive to focus on full fibre, as well as removing the costs involved with running two parallel networks on copper and fibre.
What could it mean for UK businesses?
Commenting on the proposals, interim chief executive at Ofcom Jonathan Oxley said the plans will “fuel a full fibre future for the whole country” by giving companies the tools they need to expand these networks.
“Full fibre broadband is much faster and more reliable,” he continued. “It’s vital that people and businesses everywhere – whether in rural areas, smaller towns or cities – can enjoy these benefits.”
For businesses, having this technology can open up a world of opportunity, giving them easy access to advanced cloud computing tools such as artificial intelligence, making it easier to connect with customers and colleagues remotely via high-quality video conferencing, and better support operations that depend on real-time data, from advanced analytics to more connected devices.
The amount of data businesses have to deal with is growing all the time, and fast, reliable connectivity will be critical if firms are to effectively manage this. Therefore, offering more opportunities for full fibre broadband should be a top priority for Ofcom and the government, and the new consultation will be an essential step in meeting this demand.