UK could switch off copper networks by 2027

News

Broadband providers are reportedly in talks with the UK government and regulator to set a deadline to switch off copper networks and move customers over to fibre.

Sky News reports that BT is leading the way by drawing up a six-point plan and that the government is meeting with industry representatives from BT, TalkTalk, CityFibre and Openreach.

It’s understood that copper would be phased out region-by-region, although the 2027 cut-off date for the switchover has been likened to the end of the analogue TV signal in 2012.

Greg Mesch, Chief Executive Officer at CityFibre, stressed that competition would be key in such a switch-over.

He said, “In light of our funded and mobilised Gigabit City programme to deploy wholesale full fibre infrastructure to at least five million homes, Ofcom’s exclusive focus on BT Openreach as the vehicle for migration from copper to fibre is wrong. Retiring the copper network needs to be managed in a way that promotes competition, benefiting every builder of fibre networks, rather than simply reinforcing BT Openreach’s existing market dominance. Consumers should have the power to switch to any full fibre network.

“CityFibre stands ready to play its part in transferring the nation’s homes and businesses onto a new generation of fibre networks.”

Fibre in the UK

According to the latest statistics from Ofcom, the UK's full-fibre broadband coverage now stands at 8%. Ofcom acknowledged that technologies other than fibre could also deliver Gigabit speeds, noting Virgin Media's latest copper-based cable transmission technology as well as 5G wireless networks.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated his goal for 100% rollout of fibre-optic broadband to properties across the UK by 2025. In August, UK telcos published an open letter, outlining their requirements to make this vision a reality. Issues pinpointed included: reform of the ‘fibre tax’; action on wayleaves; connectivity mandates for new builds; and tackling the skills challenge.

The National Infrastructure Commission has estimated that building and maintaining a full-fibre network across the UK would cost £33.4 billion over 30 years.

100% commitment required

The letter, signed by the leaders of the Internet Services Providers’ Association, the Federation of Communications Services and Independent Networks Cooperative Association, said, “Nationwide full-fibre coverage is not a can that can be kicked down the road, and these issues need to be resolved by your Government within the next 12 months to ensure that industry can continue to accelerate rollout.

“Industry is ready and willing to work with yourself, your Government and the new Digital Secretary to ensure that Britain’s connectivity is fit for the future. But that work needs to start now, and 100% fibre coverage requires a 100% commitment from Government.”