Fibre and 5G are the Futurematthewevans
The first lines of Matt Hancock’s speech to Broadband World Forum last week weren’t shy in setting out the general theme. Hancock’s previous speeches had shown that more than most, he ‘gets’ the role that technology can, does and may play in all of our lives. So did his predecessor Ed Vaisey. But what marked this speech out was an unapologetic focus on fibre; as he described it, the future.
Public Policy targets
Since the demise of the Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy, the UK Government has not fully explained what its public policy targets are beyond the end of 2017. Hancock was clear that this would be changing with “…ubiquitous connectivity by 2020, hotspots of hyper connectivity, and doing the work now to deliver fibre and…be a world leader in 5G.”
The future and the end of tech neutrality?
The UK Government has long had a policy of technology neutrality – one which we have fought for the European Commission to retain. This speech seems to hint that whilst it may not be gone yet, there is clearly a preference for some technology over others: “…the future is fibre. Interim technologies, yes. Part fibre, great. Satellites, sure, where necessary.” Even when describing G.Fast and DOCSIS 3.1, they were referred to as interim technologies – with the inference that they would help bridge the gap over the next decade or so.
Interestingly the Minister praised the BDUK superfast rollout but was open to the criticism levelled at it, acknowledging that the price paid for getting superfast to 95% of the population by the end of next year is that we are at just 2% of FTTH deployment. Similarly, in praising the pace of the 4G rollout (in part due to the low cost of equipment and lessons learned from other deployments) he also said that it should have started earlier.
How to get to the future
During the Q&A the Minister was clear that there was unlikely to be large public sector subsidy available – and also praised KCOM’s FTTH rollout as being delivered without any. However, he clearly saw a role for Government in helping to drive out fibre and 5G be that in providing leadership, setting standards, investing in research and development or reducing costs. He was also clear one other point – the Advertising Standards Authority have got it wrong on FTTC being called ‘fibre broadband’.
The next few weeks will provide us with more evidence of whether this is a continuation of existing policy or a new direction, with most observers expecting to see details of a broadband investment in the Autumn Statement.