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June 25, 2021
Openreach this week announced plans to add a further 5 million homes and businesses to its full fibre footprint in the UK, sharing details of a raft of new towns and cities in which it plans to build.
The move forms part of Openreach’s plan to roll out fibre coverage to 25 million homes by the end of 2026, an updated target it shared last month.
In a sense then, this latest announcement is not really news, unless you’re particularly interested in which locations will be next to receive full fibre…which you might well be if you live in Bournemouth, Dunfermline, Kettering, Sunderland or Wrexham, five of the locations Openreach said is targeting next. Then again, with lead times looking fairly long, maybe not.
Openreach said planning work has already started and that the build will take place between now and December 2026, which is pretty broad. It added that work in the latest locations to be named will begin later this year, but the updated version of its fibre build programme document – downloadable here – shows that most of the new locations are in its 22/23-24/25 build delivery phase, the tail end of which is a good few years away.
Nonetheless, progress in fibre build-out can only be a good thing.
As it stands, Openreach has passed 5 million homes and businesses with fibre and is doing so at a rate of 43,000 per week. That’s pretty speedy, but it will need to pick up the pace to hit its 25 million target in five and a half years; a quick calculation suggests it needs to cover around 70,000 premises per week going forward.
Indeed, when it added 3 million rural premises to its rollout plan a month ago, the firm noted that an investment in training and other initiatives will help it to push its build rate to around 75,000 per week, a capability it will certainly need if it hovers around the 43,000 mark for much longer.
Then comes the task of persuading UK consumers and businesses to switch to full fibre, many of whom already believe they already have it due to questionable marketing of fibre-to-the-cabinet services in recent years.
“More than a million customers are already enjoying our most revolutionary and reliable broadband ever,” said Openreach CEO Clive Selley, in a statement.
That’s a take-up rate of about 20%, which is a step in the right direction, but still well below the European average. The FTTH Council Europe last month revealed that full fibre take-up in the EU27+UK stood at 46.9% last September.
Clearly, the UK is still playing catch-up.
Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.
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