Broadband has long been a political football in the UK.
It should surprise nobody that new PM Boris Johnson has brought forward the target date for completing full-fibre broadband coverage by a whopping eight years.
Boris has pledged to provide UK-wide full-fibre broadband by 2025. Previously, the target was 2033.
This would be quite an achievement if it came to pass. The social and economic benefits of high-quality internet connections are well known.
But could any government achieve full-fibre UK by 2025? And if so, what will it take to achieve this ambitious target?
Not so fast
As with many political issues, when it comes to meeting broadband promises, the devil is in the detail.
At first glance, the UK’s figures for high-quality broadband look pretty good.
Around 95 per cent of households have access to Next Generation Access standard connections of 30Mbps and above.
So it might seem the UK is well on its way to ultrafast connectivity for everyone.
But these figures are largely achieved through a mix of fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) and fibre to the premises (FTTP). And only FTTP connections are deemed ‘full fibre’.
What’s more, aspirations have grown since the UK began to pursue nationwide fibre coverage.
The demand is now for ultrafast speeds of at least 100Mbps.
Given that most FTTC has a maximum speed around 80Mbps, the demand for a faster FTTP roll-out is growing.
That’s a lot to ask of Openreach, who have so far done much of the work required.
A full fibre diet
Ofcom has recognised the scale of the challenge facing Openreach, putting its weight behind increased competition to speed up provision of full-fibre broadband.
But by the end of 2018, just six per cent of UK premises had full-fibre.
Much of the UK remained poorly served, with two per cent of households having no access to decent broadband connections at all.
Under-served areas include many sparsely-populated and/or deprived regions where potential profits may not be high enough to tempt private companies to install FTTP.
Meanwhile, in cities, some blocks of flats are so well-catered for that residents can choose from a range of FTTP providers.
The government offers some help to those with poor connections through the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, but the problem persists.
Many frustrated homeowners are turning to satellite broadband and community-funded FTTC schemes.
Against this background, Boris’ pledge looks very challenging indeed.
What will it take to be full-fibre by 2025?
At the time of writing, the PM has not specified how the government will support this new project.
No funding figures have been given, and no-one has explained how the companies involved are to increase their productivity so massively – and at such short notice.
However, there are very rational reasons for rolling out FTTP more quickly, and reasons that go beyond political PR.
While many consumers are currently happy with the speeds they get from FTTC, that technology will become obsolete pretty soon. It also lacks a long-term upgrade path.
Meanwhile, FTTP connections have plenty of scope to handle ever-faster connection speeds, to keep up with evolving technology and internet use.
The Internet of Things alone is likely to transform domestic broadband usage, with dozens of web-enabled devices in every home.
So will the UK ever enjoy universal broadband to a full-fibre standard?
It seems highly likely the answer is ‘yes’. As to whether it will happen by 2025…that’s a much more difficult question to answer.