Government reveals first areas to benefit from 'Project Gigabit'

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The government has revealed the first details of a new project that will connect homes and businesses that would otherwise be excluded from commercial rollouts of gigabit broadband.

The vast majority of the UK’s broadband infrastructure is delivered by fibre the cabinet (FTTC) technology that uses copper for the final few metres of a connection, but the industry and the government are now shifting towards a ‘fibre-by-default’ approach.

The Conservative manifesto ahead of the 2019 General Election promised nationwide fibre to the premise (FTTP) coverage by 2025 but the government has since backtracked and revised this target to 85%. It will also only provide £1.2 billion of £5 billion in promised funding during this Parliament.

Project Gigabit 

Nonetheless, the first phase of ‘£5 billon Project Gigabit’ is now underway and will connect one million properties across England. Contracts for 510,000 homes in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley will be published in the Spring, with work set to start in the first half of 2022.

Meanwhile, in June, the government expects to start procurement for a further 640,000 premises in Norfolk, Shropshire, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Project Gigabit will also make £210 million available for connectivity vouchers for businesses in eligible areas of the country, and £110 million available to connect public buildings such as GP surgeries, libraries and schools.

There is also a call for evidence on alternative network technologies, such as satellite, 5G and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) to see how they could connect the 0.3% of UK premises that it will not be possible to connect with fibre.

“Project Gigabit is our national mission to plug in and power up every corner of the UK and get us gigafit for the future,” said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

“We have already made rapid progress, with almost 40% of homes and businesses now able to access next-generation gigabit speeds, compared to just 9 percent in 2019. Now we are setting out our plans to invest £5 billion in remote and rural areas so that no one is left behind by the connectivity revolution.

“That means no more battling over the bandwidth, more freedom to live and work anywhere in the country, and tens of thousands of new jobs created as we deliver a game-changing infrastructure upgrade.”

Government funding is only one part of the equation. Earlier this week Ofcom confirmed it was unlikely to impose price controls on the fastest fibre wholesale services for at least a decade, while the Budget included details of a ‘super deduction’ tax break for certain infrastructure investments.

With a ‘favourable regulatory environment’ in place, Openreach is now ready to press ahead with plans to connect 20 million properties to full fibre. Meanwhile, Virgin Media and several altnets are also investing in fibre networks.

‘Project Gigabit’ has been welcomed by Openreach, CityFibre and Gigaclear, all of whom have said they are ready to support the government in its ambitions.

“We’ll be considering these proposals for the final 20% with interest and we’re keen to support the Government,” said Openreach CEO Clive Selley. “This is a massive opportunity to level-up the country and boost the bounce-back after the pandemic, so it’s important the process moves quickly and that all operators do their bit.”

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.