On November 25, the UK government published its new National Infrastructure Strategy. In light of the significant new investments we’re seeing in this sector (the topic of our webinar yesterday), I thought I’d draw out a few interesting things the strategy says about broadband (from page 31 on):

  • The pledge – first announced last year and then repeated at the budget in March – to spend GBP5billion to subsidize rural “gigabit broadband” is repeated (again!), but we still don’t have any details of how this will be disbursed. The chancellor’s spending review, published the same day, suggests GBP1.2bn will be spent between now and 2024-25, which in turn suggests that the rest will come, if at all, in the final year of the scheme (or, perhaps more realistically, that the deadline will be extended).
  • The target seems to have been softened from its original formulation of providing every home in the UK with “full fibre” by 2025, to one where 85% “coverage” of “gigabit capable” services will be provided within this timescale. This seems likely to reflect reality more closely, despite the current enormous increase in FTTP investment.
  • More than 33% of UK premises already have access to gigabit-capable connections, up from just 9% in July 2019. Current market data suggests operators will deliver FTTP to 2.5 million new premises in 2020, up from 750,000 in 2018. This is a remarkably rapid deployment, even if much of it has likely been achieved from Virgin Media’s ongoing upgrade work (which uses DOCSIS 3.1 rather than full fibre).
  • The government expects that, ultimately, commercial investment by the private sector will lead to around 80% of UK premises being connected to gigabit capable services and that no subsidies will be needed for this, though there’s still a role for the government in reducing regulatory obstacles (through its “barrier busting task force“).
  • There’s an interesting map on page 32 showing, by region, what percentage of properties the government expects will never be commercial for rollout of gigabit-capable services (ie that will need a subsidy). This map shows roughly half the landmass of the UK within zones for which 35% or more of properties are in this category.
  • The total investment required for this will be around GBP30bn.

The strategy also has some interesting things to say for those with an interest in digital infrastructure. It talks about the (4G) Single Rural Network, on which we have been advising, and about the 5G testbed and trails programme.

Finally, it trails that the government will also publish the “5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy to ensure the UK’s 5G networks are not over reliant on a single supplier, committing £250 million to start this journey.” This relates to the restrictions on the use of “high risk vendors,” and in particular Huawei – about which we have also been advising clients, and which we blogged about here.