Why full fibre is fundamental to a thriving digital economy and society


By nexfibre CEO Rajiv Datta 

In today’s world, full fibre is fundamental to a thriving digital economy and society. It has the potential to transform our economy and drive growth in parts of the UK that have historically been left behind, including the north of England.  

Our sector has made great strides in the past few years. Investment in digital infrastructure has increased and there are plenty of new players in the market, which has injected much-needed competition and impetus into FTTH rollout and spurred the incumbent to do more.  

As I highlighted during a panel event at Connected North earlier last week, everyone recognises the vital role full fibre plays in not only boosting the economy, but also bridging the digital divide and addressing regional inequality. After years of slow rollout across the north of England, new energy and focus is required to truly ‘Power Up’ Britain through digital connectivity. 

”It’s important to recognise that the significant investment made in deploying full fibre networks in recent years has not resulted in a market structure that is sustainable over the long term and multiple investment cycles.  We are in a moment of peril which could lead back to where we came from – a dominant single incumbent player in the access market.  It will require continued investment, consolidation and regulatory support to drive an outcome of real, national scale fibre infrastructure competition.”  

FTTH rollout may have increased nationally, but from a low base vis a vis the UK’s international competitors and peers. More than one-third of UK households still do not have full-fibre access – a legacy of the lack of competition in a market dominated by Openreach as the incumbent network.  

On top of that, the market structure is unsustainable in its current form, which means the sector is in for a bumpy ride over the next few years. While the influx of altnets has injected much-needed investment and competition into the market, the truth is many of these players do not have the staying power to last.  

The financial pressures facing altnets are very real with interest rates high and credit tight. Many have tried to combine retail and wholesale operations, but low levels of penetration and the economics of the fixed market – which dictate there can only be a few scale operators because of the finite number of customers and connections – mean consolidation in the market is both necessary and inevitable.    

To keep the cycle of investment going and sustain the progress of recent years – and deliver for underserved communities in the North and across the country – the market needs sustainable competition at an infrastructure level and at a national scale. 

This is ultimately what nexfibre exists to do. We are here to provide a genuine national scale alternative to Openreach, transform access to broadband in the UK and shape the future of the market. We can do that because we are different to other alternative networks in significant ways.  

As a wholesale-only provider, we are focused entirely on building and maintaining a quality full-fibre infrastructure platform for all ISPs. We are the only fibre provider of scale building exclusively using XGS-PON architecture that is capable of symmetrical speeds and has the capability to be continuously upgraded – able to meet the needs of growing northern communities that require improved access to reliable connectivity. 

Our work with build partner and major tenant Virgin Media O2 is a huge comparative advantage for us. Besides being able to tap into their significant experience and expertise in network build, the partnership gives us a significant baseline of penetration to build on as we look to onboard additional ISPs to our network. 

Added to that, we have an almost unrivalled ability to invest thanks to our mature shareholders and partners – we are investing £1bn in digital infrastructure this year, more than any other altnet.  

Policymakers and the regulator have an important role to play in supporting sustainable alternative networks like ourselves and boosting long-term competition to Openreach. We believe the upcoming telecoms access review should focus on ways to foster that competition, maintain investment incentives and guarantee proper transparency and oversight to ensure all players follow the rules and the incumbent meets its obligations.  

Proving we can deliver 

We are only 16 months old as a company, but we are already proving we can deliver at pace. Last week, we passed 1 million premises, making it the fastest build programme of any UK provider. We are on track to deliver our network to more premises than any other alternative fibre provider in 2024, which will make us the UK’s second largest network provider in only our second year of operation, and has put us well on the way towards our goal of reaching 5 million premises by 2026, including hundreds of thousands across the North. 

Moving forwards, approximately 60% of our build plan for 2024 is located in the North, with significant investments in areas such as Durham, Cheshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire, and are proud to be playing an important role in helping local communities and economies across the North to thrive and grow. Delivering for local areas matters hugely to me and everyone associated with nexfibre. Boosting access to fibre broadband is vital to powering up the UK and closing the geographical divide that still exists. We are committed to playing our part in equipping northern communities with the digital connectivity they need to succeed, and ultimately creating a more balanced and sustainable economy for the UK.  

Recent Posts