UK continues to lag on fibre as BoJo forgets broadband promise

As the UK continues to trail other European nations on fibre deployments, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has omitted broadband infrastructure from grand spending plans to drive the economy forward.

Seemingly inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt, Johnson has launched a New Deal for the UK. A strategy which involves sparking the domestic economy back to life through investment in infrastructure projects throughout the country. The same approach was used in the US by Roosevelt as a recovery effort from the Great Depression in the early 1930s.

Theoretically, if you invest in Government infrastructure projects, there is a knock-on effect. Building a hospital requires labour, which puts hundreds in employment, while the sourcing of materials acts as a catalyst for the building materials companies, who reignite their own supply chains. The Government gets into debt with this strategy, but it does theoretically get the economy moving again.

“It sounds like a New Deal and all I can say is that if so, then that is how it is meant to sound and to be because that is what the times demand,” Johnson said. “A government that is powerful and determined and that puts its arms around people at a time of crisis.”

For all the political hooha and grandeur, Johnson is effectively saying money will be spent on infrastructure projects. One would find it difficult to translate the speech, but ultimately Johnson has said he will spend money on various projects to get the economy moving once again.

£1.5 billion will be directed towards building new hospitals, £100 million for 29 projects to improve the roads, £1 billion for a ten-year school rebuilding initiative, £142 million for the courts, £83 million for the prisons and £96 million to revive the highstreets. Not all of these initiatives are new, a common tactic for politicians is to reannounce spending commitments, but interestingly enough broadband does not get a mention.

“We welcome today’s announcement of a multi-billion pound investment in the UK’s infrastructure to turbo charge economic growth, but note that there was no firm commitment to re-fuelling the pledge towards providing full-fibre connectivity to the whole of the UK by 2025,” said Lloyd Felton, CEO of Country Broadband, an Essex-based alt-net.

It is almost like Johnson has forgotten his idiotic bold pledge to rollout full-fibre broadband connectivity to every corner of the UK by 2025. Bouts of amnesia seem to be a common illness for politicians, especially when you consider the task at hand is somewhat of a complicated one.

Country FTTH – Household coverage FTTH penetration – percentage FTTH penetration – subscriptions – 2019-end* Price per 1 Mbps download speed FTTH penetration – subscriptions – 2024-end*
UK 12.0% 2.5% 729 $1.16 8,181
Germany 11.6% 3.2% 1,324 $0.61 2,654
Spain 81.9% 46.1% 8,758 $1.15 14,159
France 46.1% 25.1% 6,613 $0.29 15,315
US 43.2% 13.1% 16,934 $1.03 21,558
Source: Omdia Knowledge Centre, FTTH Benchmark


As you can see from the data above, the UK is a pretty poor position when it comes to homes passed, and an even worse one when it comes to penetration. This data tells us two things; firstly, the UK is not the digital infrastructure champion the Government makes it put to be, and secondly, telecoms operators are not very good at selling fibre broadband services to customers.

There are of course numerous reasons as to why the fibre adoption rate is not higher in the UK, but according to Omdia’s Michael Philpott, one reason might be the presence of reasonably good quality copper broadband infrastructure and relatively short loop lengths.

While the likes of France and Spain painstakingly deployed fibre broadband throughout the country, the UK relied on ageing copper infrastructure and a preference for G.Fast as opposed to fibre upgrades. This was a short-term solution, an effort to delay the expenditure on fibre infrastructure, but now time has caught up.

As Philpott points out, there are FTTH initiatives today, but most are small scale in comparison to other nations, while Openreach is still attempting to sweat fibre assets to drive as much revenue as possible. Digging up the ground and delivering fibre broadband is a very expensive and time-consuming task after all, and when you have a good copper alternative which delivers the desired service to consumers, the drive is ambition further.

There are of course numerous other reasons why the drive towards full fibre has not been, and is not currently, in top gear.

When we asked readers why consumer were not purchasing full fibre services, the results were quite varied. 44% suggested prices were too high, which is supported by the Omdia data above; when the US telecoms operators are cheaper you know there is something wrong. 19% questioned market awareness, 17% feel fibre speeds aren’t needed for today’s usage and 7% said mistrust in telecoms operators was impacting buying decisions.

When you combine these different trends into an overarching story, it does not necessarily read the best. The consumer appetite for fibre might not be as high as some boast, the telecoms operators are sluggish on deployment and sweating assets, while Government policy does not back up the bold claims made during yesteryear.

  • Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies


  1. Avatar Mrs C A CONDER 02/07/2020 @ 9:35 pm

    Support the altnets, they go where the major players won’t, and provide much needed competition. If it wasn’t for Virgin we’d all still be on dial up.

  2. Avatar David Alldritt 03/07/2020 @ 11:24 am

    Another key factor holding back FTTH uptake is the simple fact that copper broadband has been sold as ”fibre”. The Advertising Standards Authority made the perverse decision that all of the misleading advertising and descriptions of VDSL services as ‘fibre’ wasn’t confusing the customer. The sad reality is that very many customers belive they already have fibre broadband, so why do they want a new fibre broadband? Industry has done nothing to improve this situation either – it suits the incumbent telcos, or at least it did until BT decided to stop paying dividends and invest in the infrastructure instead.

  3. Avatar Oache 03/07/2020 @ 2:19 pm

    Selling “fiber broadband” is misleading 80% of the population in thinking they get a good deal and high speeds when actually they get the same copper speeds wrapped under a new name.Fiber means speeds over 100mb/s,what BT does is trying to hold on the same infrastructure as long as they can do to cash-in while we remain in the dark ages. G.Fast is and was smoke and mirrors to calm down certain group of people

  4. Avatar Mark Newman 04/07/2020 @ 9:09 am

    David Alldritt is spot on. I had an EE customer service agent tell me last month that their “Fibre Plus” service delivers fibre by “shooting fibre through the copper” connection to my home. Not sure if the agent genuinely believed what they were saying. I had got in touch with them (all our mobiles are EE) because my Virgin Media service is so appalling and had heard that BT was now installing fibre into homes in my street. Seems that while BT can give me FTTH, EE (which it owns) cannot. Figure that one out.

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