Budget 2018: More funding for rural fibre but no new 5G commitments

This year’s budget included few specific provisions for the UK’s communications infrastructure, with the headline pledge being £200 million to boost connectivity in rural areas.

The government seemed content with its previously announced projects, such as plans to ensure the UK has a nationwide full-fibre network announced in the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), but made it clear it sees digital infrastructure as essential to economic growth.

The £200 million will come from the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), which was set up in 2016 to provide capital for areas “critical” to productivity such as housing, transport, communications and R&D.

Budget 2018 broadband

Specifically, it is to be used to pilot “innovative” approaches for deploying fibre in rural areas and will begin with primary schools and a voucher scheme for residents and businesses in the Borderlands between England and Scotland, Cornwall and Wales.

There are other provisions to ensure new-build homes have access to full fibre and that tenants in rented accommodation are able to upgrade their connections. 

Separately, Suffolk will become the first local area to benefit from the third wave of the Local Full Fibre Networks challenge fund, receiving £5.9m to bring fibre to key public buildings.

Previous government-funded projects like Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) have helped bring superfast coverage to more than 95 per cent of the population, but this has predominantly been achieved using fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) technology.

The government’s attention has now turned to fibre to the premise (FTTP) coverage, and to connecting areas in the ‘final five’ per cent, as outlined by its hope that the UK’s copper network can be switched off by 2033.

There were also now provisions made by the chancellor for 5G initiatives, although budget documents show that spending on fibre and 5G investment will increase from £25 million in 2017-18 to £150 million in 2018-19 and £290 million by 2020-21.

‘New measures announced in today’s Budget to accelerate the roll out of full fibre in rural areas are welcome,” commented Adrian Baschnonga, EY’s Telecoms Lead Analyst. “However, mobile networks, including soon-to-be-launched 5G technology, will also play an important role in boosting connectivity in under-served areas.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.