The government has outlined plans to invest £1bn to boost the UK's digital connectivity, covering both fixed fibre connections and future 5G services.
Chancellor Philip Hammond unveiled the plans as part of the Autumn Statement, explaining that it was vital for the UK to ensure it was at the forefront of the digital revolution.
"Our future transport, business and lifestyle needs will require world class digital infrastructure to underpin them. So my ambition is for the UK to be a world leader in 5G," he said.
"That means a full-fibre network; a step-change in speed, security and reliability.
So we will invest over £1bn in our digital infrastructure to catalyse private investment in fibre networks and to support 5G trials."
He also said that from April the government will introduce 100 per cent business rates relief for a five-year period on new fibre infrastructure, with the aim of making it easier for providers to bring new services to home and businesses.
As expected £400m from the £1bn will be used in a Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund that will focus on fibre to the premises (FTTP) offerings, rather than fibre to the cabinet (FTTC).
The aim will be to boost the number of connections in the UK that can access FTTP services, that can usually provide speeds of around 1Gbps, to provide a 'gold standard' service.
CityFibre welcomed the commitment from government to priorities infrastructure spending in this way, with CEO Greg Mesch saying it was key the UK looked to the long-term for digital infrastructure.
“Britain’s industrial strategy needs a digital backbone, and it is essential that we move quickly to plug the UK’s ‘fibre gap’ and empower our service-based economy,” he said.
“This new funding, stimulating competitive fibre rollout at scale by new communications infrastructure builders, is a catalyst for the delivery of the UK’s fibre future.”
The focus on fibre broadband was also seen as a positive step by government by Stuart Orr, an advisory partner at consultancy giant EY.
“Additional funds to fuel the rollout of faster broadband come at an important time. While the UK scores well compared to other markets in roll out of ‘entry level’ fibre broadband, other countries and their economies are already benefiting from extensive coverage of ‘full fibre’," he said.
Other funding will be used for 5G trials and development: "[The government will be]
providing funding for a coordinated programme of integrated fibre and 5G trials, to keep the UK at the forefront of the global 5G revolution," the statement said.
It said more detail on this strategy would be announced during the 2017 Budget.
The plan to boost investment around 5G was welcomed by deputy CEO for techUK, Antony Walker.
“The announcement of this funding for fibre broadband and 5G mobile is a powerful signal to the world of the UK’s ambition to be a leading digital nation," he said.
However, he noted that such ambitions plans would cost a lot more than £1bn and so the government needs to make sure all funding is well targeted to maximise its impact.
"Public funding therefore needs to be targeted carefully. We believe the bulk of the investment required should come from the private sector. Too unlock that investment we need Government and Ofcom to work with the industry to set out a wider long-term strategy for telecoms."
"That strategy needs to focus on what more Government and Local Government can do to drive down infrastructure deployment costs."
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