Fibre to the premise offers both residential customers and businesses significantly higher bandwidth services with far greater reliability than traditional copper data services. This revolution in UK access technology will undoubtedly be an enabler of future digital innovation, a platform upon which future high bandwidth reliable services can be delivered.
The majority of access networks in the UK have been constructed using twisted pair copper cables, suitable for delivering low-bit rate services over ranges up to 15km. This infrastructure was never designed for data services and whilst many techniques have been developed to enable data transmission these are all limited due to the physical characteristics of the underlying copper pairs. As an alternative new access networks are being deployed across the UK using either shared or dedicated fibre-optic cables, these topologies enabling the transmission of much higher bit-rate services (multi-terabit/s) over longer distances with guaranteed predictability. This has led to a step change in the services that can be delivered to customers, and as a consequence a race to deploy this to as many premises as possible.
Unlike the existing copper network which is owned and operated by incumbent communications providers, the abundance of capital being invested in full-fibre networks has led to a multitude of operators (AltNets) building infrastructure across the country. In 2021 the UK has 18% or 5.1m premises with full-fibre connectivity, which is an increase of 2.1m premises in 2020. The build plans so far announced in the UK will cover more than 25m homes by the late 2020s, with more than 95 AltNets currently building full-fibre networks in the UK.
This move towards full-fibre networks will see the largest change in UK telecommunications infrastructure this century. It will require a radical transformation of delivery networks, supporting exponentially increasing data capacities, but will also allow network operators to consolidate their network footprint across a reduced number of points-of-presence and hence drive operational efficiencies.
The scope and diversity of this full-fibre build-out, whilst accelerating the delivery of full-fibre connectivity across the UK, represents a real challenge in ensuring that customer experience, service, support and choice are maintained and equivalent. Interoperability standards will be imperative if customers are to receive consistent services, choice of providers and for critical telecommunication services to be maintained.