Getting people onto a new national digital infrastructure is a massively complex engineering project.
It involves huge investment from Openreach, building physical fibre connections to millions of individual properties, and it needs the support and commitment of hundreds of broadband and telephone providers throughout the country.
Our engineers are already out there building the network. And so far they’ve installed more than 2.6 million kilometres of fibre – enough to go to the moon and back three times. This is integral in building an infrastructure to help connect over 1.2 million homes and businesses to the new platform.
Our target is to reach four million premises by the end of March 2021, and we want to go much further if we can get the right conditions to invest.
But this is not just about building the network. In fact, that will be pointless if we can’t encourage people to use it once it’s built.
That’s why today we’re taking the next step on our journey - proposing Salisbury in Wiltshire, and Mildenhall in Suffolk as two key trial locations for our national upgrade programme.
These testbeds will teach us some valuable lessons as we look to migrate the UK onto our Fibre to the Premises platform. They’ll give Openreach, broadband providers and the multitude of special service providers that rely on our network the chance to test the new technology and work out how we can upgrade people safely and smoothly – moving them from existing analogue and copper technologies to faster, more reliable, fibre broadband.
Our Communications Provider (CP) customers will have a critical role to play in all this, and that’s why we’ve been spending the last few months speaking to them, working out how we can best support their customers in the big upgrade process.
In particular, we asked them their views on what a successful transition would look like. And their responses revealed some key themes, including:
• We all think that the large majority of customer upgrades should be voluntary
• We agree that the roll out should be done area-by-area, exchange by exchange
• CPs are keen to have more input into how we select areas to upgrade
• We agree that trials are a necessary next step
• And we agree that we should develop a customer charter – using our engagement with customers in the trial areas to develop a clear set of commitments to protect them through the upgrade process
We’re keen to get stuck into the next phase of this work, and we’ll be taking forward these discussions and actions in our regular meetings and forums with the industry.
The upgrade to full fibre could put the UK at the forefront of the global digital race and provide a major boost to the UK economy. That’s why we’re determined to follow a plan that makes upgrading the country smooth and beneficial for everyone.
Richard Allwood, Chief Strategy Officer, Openreach