The UK must have full fibre broadband coverage in the years ahead, rather than trying to make do with a mix of old copper services and newer fibre products, according to Matt Hancock, minister of state for digital and culture.
Hancock said at the Broadband World Forum that the broadband strategy of the past few years that involved boosting copper connections has enabled millions of homes to get online with speeds of 24Mbps and above.
However, he added that full fibre networks are needed so that homes and businesses around the country have the speeds they need for a truly digital future.
"The future is fibre. Interim technologies, yes. Part fibre, great. Satellites, sure, where necessary. But around the world the evidence increasingly points to fibre as the underpinning of a digital nation,” he said.
Hancock explained that work by KCOM in Hull, where half the city can now access full fibre services, shows that it can be done. He also mentioned various projects by CityFibre, Hyperoptic, Virgin Media and BT as proof that more fibre connections are coming online.
“The future is about enabling gigabit speeds and high-quality connectivity across the country. Demand is only going to rise, so we need to stay ahead of the curve. When it comes to fibre, it is a case not of if, but of when,” he said.
To this end Hancock explained that the government is committed to doing whatever it can to help internet providers roll out fibre connections as quickly as possible.
“I want to know from [the broadband industry] what we can do to reduce the cost of full fibre rollouts so that in reality as well as rhetoric, fibre is the future,” he said.
The push for fibre comes in the same week that BT announced technologies that can boost backhaul fibre connections from 2.5Gbps to as high as 40Gbps.
This could enable BT to offer speeds to customers far in excess of the current high of 330Mbps that its fibre services provide.
On the topic of mobile coverage, Hancock warned that the UK must not lag behind on the deployment of these technologies as it did with 4G.
“When it comes to 5G, we are committed to leading the way by defining industry standards, attracting and retaining investment in research, demonstration and development, channelling investment to build on areas of UK strength and excellence, and creating the right regulatory framework in full understanding of the many crossovers to our full fibre rollout,” he said.
This should ensure that the nation leads the way on 5G by around 2020 when many leading operators have committed to provide coverage in major European cities.
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