The meteoric growth of home internet and online services has been mirrored by ongoing changes in the infrastructure bringing bits and bytes into our homes.
Via technological dead-ends like T1 lines and Midband, dial-up internet gradually evolved into broadband.
Domestic broadband connections have increased in speed by an order of magnitude following their UK debut in 2000.
Today, new-build estates are routinely pre-cabled with full fibre lines, while the Government wants to bring gigabit connectivity into every home.
This national full fibre broadband network would finally consign sluggish ADSL and Fibre to the Cabinet connections to history.
However, a national full fibre broadband network could be significantly slower than 1Gbps, while still delivering huge benefits.
But what would these advantages be?
The Centre for Economics and Business Research claimed earlier this year that a national upgrade of the UK’s internet connectivity could bring a £59 billion productivity boost.
Consequential gains of this productivity boost are projected to include:
Less tangibly, though equally significantly, it’s important to consider the UK’s international standing among employers and potential investors regarding connectivity and communications.
Would Global Manufacturing Inc build its next factory in Britain if France and Germany offered vastly superior internet infrastructure?
Potential investors will research available line speeds at prospective HQs, but they’ll also consider wider regional/national broadband infrastructure as well.
As we’ve previously reported, the UK doesn’t perform especially well by comparison to our neighbours in that regard.
If you’ve ever found yourself cursing as a streaming media service suddenly buffers, or as a Zoom call descends into jittery pixellation, you’ll understand the appeal of full fibre.
Across slower connections, download speeds tend to be nine or ten times faster than upload speeds, since we consume (download) far more than we create (upload).
This bias can results in dismal upload speeds, which is especially problematic for online gaming or file uploads – cloud storage mirroring, Dropbox/WeTransfer exchanges, etc.
Full fibre could eliminate these issues, as fibre optic cables offer symmetrical (i.e. comparable) upload and download speeds.
High speed internet also ensures each household resident is able to stream, game, surf or work simultaneously without affecting the activities of anyone else.
That’s especially valuable in larger households and HMOs, for parents living with older children, or in properties where someone has a penchant for MMORPG gaming or 4K streaming.
The explosion in home working should level off as offices steadily reopen, but millions of us will remain WFH for at least part of each week.
The efficiency gains delivered by seamless home broadband improve corporate productivity, reduce employee frustration and support emerging technologies like VR training.
Finally, rapid internet connectivity boosts house prices. This might not benefit the economy, but it does (a) benefit homeowners and (b) reflect the innate desirability of high-speed broadband.
Is national full fibre achievable?
On a long enough timeline, yes, but not in the next few years.
The Conservatives rowed back on their ambitious manifesto promise to extend gigabit connectivity to every home in the UK by 2025, as the realities of this pledge became apparent.
However, ongoing investment in 5G infrastructure may provide a medium-term stopgap, improving connection speeds in rural or isolated properties.
There is excitement around light-powered connectivity, which could eventually function as a WiFi replacement.
These companies are working alongside full fibre specialists like Openreach and Virgin Media, bringing server-to-screen cabling into more homes with every passing month.