Plans to connect more UK properties to superfast full-fibre broadband have moved forward with the launch of the £5-billion Project Gigabit scheme.
In addition, UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced new rules to help support the development of full-fibre broadband.
While the number of properties capable of receiving gigabit broadband speeds has increased from one-in-ten households in 2019 to around two-in-five today, there are still numerous properties, largely in rural areas, that are lagging behind.
Project Gigabit aims to connect one million hard to reach homes and businesses to high-speed gigabit internet.
While most fibre-optic broadband transmits around 30-300Mbps, gigabit speeds are up to 1000Mbps. At this speed, an entire HD film could be downloaded in minutes and ultra-high-definition video calls become possible.
These speeds can be delivered by full-fibre broadband. Although most broadband uses high-speed fibre-optic cables, these generally end at a central cabinet near properties, where the information is transmitted over much slower copper wires.
Full-fibre uses fibre-optic cables all the way to the property, ensuring that the high speeds are maintained throughout.
The UK’s average broadband speed is currently around 80.91 Mbps, giving it the 47th highest speed in the world. This lags leaders like Singapore and Bahrain, which have average speeds of over 200Mbps.
The initial rollout will target up to 510,000 properties across England, covering the areas of Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley.
Currently, both the UK and Scottish governments are in talks to deliver Project Gigabit contracts across Scotland alongside Scotland’s R100 programme.
In addition, the government will relaunch its existing Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. This will see an additional £210 million released to help hard-to-connect properties connect to broadband infrastructure. The scheme targets areas that would not normally be economical for companies to develop.
Also, £110 million will help connect 7000 rural GP surgeries, libraries and schools.
The UK Government said the scheme would help the country recover from the pandemic and fuel economic growth.
Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden noted: “Project Gigabit is our national mission to plug in and power up every corner of the UK and get us gigafit for the future.
“We have already made rapid progress, with almost 40 percent of homes and businesses now able to access next-generation gigabit speeds, compared to just 9 percent in 2019. Now we are setting out our plans to invest £5 billion in remote and rural areas so that no one is left behind by the connectivity revolution.
“That means no more battling over the bandwidth, more freedom to live and work anywhere in the country, and tens of thousands of new jobs created as we deliver a game-changing infrastructure upgrade.”
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The government said the contracts for the first areas will go to tender in the spring, with physical work set to begin in the first half of 2022.
This next wave of procurements is set to begin in June, which will connect up to 640,000 premises in Norfolk, Shropshire, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
To further promote the development of the UK’s full-fibre broadband network, Ofcom’s new rules will regulate the wholesale telecoms markets. This includes those used to deliver broadband, mobile and business connections in the UK, for the next five years and beyond.
The body said that the new rules will provide around 70% of UK properties with a choice of networks from competitive commercial rollout.
Of the remaining 30%, Openreach aims to deploy full-fibre 10% (3.2 million) of properties in rural areas, with the Government using public funding to connect the remaining 20%.