Eurobites: Ofcom Fans Flames of UK’s Full-Fiber Future | Light Reading

Eurobites: Ofcom Fans Flames of UK’s Full-Fiber Future | Light Reading

Paul Rainford


Also in today’s EMEA regional rollout: US applies the Huawei thumbscrews on the UK again; French CEO questions Trump’s motives over Huawei freeze-out; Orange tests 5G drones in Poland.

  • Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, has issued proposals which it hopes will boost investment in”full fiber” (i.e. fiber-to-the-premises). The proposals, which form part of Ofcom’s review of the wholesale telecom market in the UK, comprise four main strands: the capping (to inflation) of the wholesale price Openreach charges retail providers for its entry-level “superfast” broadband service in urban areas; the capping of Openreach’s wholesale charges on its slower copper broadband services; allowing Openreach to recover its investment costs across the wholesale prices of a wide range of services in sparsely populated rural areas where there is no prospect of rival networks being built; and allowing Openreach to close its copper network in areas where full fiber is laid.

    Openreach’s parent company, BT, says it welcomed “the direction” of Ofcom’s proposals, describing them in a statement as a “significant step forward towards a widely shared ambition to fibre up the whole of the UK.”

    But rival fiber player Truespeed isn’t so impressed, saying in a statement: “Ofcom must take account of the work that providers such as Truespeed and others are doing in rural areas and not muddy the playing field by allowing Openreach to waste money on overbuilding projects in these areas.”

    CityFibre, another fiber investor financially backed by Goldman Sachs, has similar qualms. CEO Greg Mesch said he welcomed Ofcom’s efforts but would like to see it move “further and faster.”

    “While we are encouraged by Ofcom’s recognition of the risks of volume discounts and geographic pricing to damage competition before it can scale … we would like it to be even more proactive in addressing these issues,” he said in a statement. “The government’s 2025 target for national coverage is ambitious and while possible, it is only achievable with bold and affirmative action.”

    Even before he replaced Theresa May as UK prime minister, Boris Johnson was promising full-fiber broadband “sprouting in every household” by 2025, which was eight years sooner than a previous government target. Currently full-fiber networks are available to less than 10% of UK properties.

  • Meanwhile, in the wireless realm, the UK is facing a fresh twist of the thumbscrews from the Trump administration in the US over the Brits’ potential use of Huawei equipment in the UK’s next-generation network, according to a Reuters report. Tomorrow (Thursday) British Foreign Secretary Dominc Raab is scheduled to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and it is expected that Raab will be feeling the heat over Huawei. A US delegation had originally planned to meet up with Brit counterparts in the UK this week to discuss Huawei-related security issues, but bad weather apparently put paid to that. (See Huawei Ban in UK Still on the Table and Huawei Decision to Show if BoJo Is Presidential Poodle or British Bulldog.)
  • But is Trump’s antipathy towards Huawei and all its works really based on security concerns? Not according to Paul Boudre, the CEO of French chipmaker Soitec, who believes it is more about not falling behind China in the 5G race. He told Bloomberg: “Trump’s kick in the pants for companies is to wake them up and to catch up Trump is the emissary saying that if nothing is done, we’ll be blown away. That’s why he’s been trying to put a brake on the advances that China has made.”
  • Orange Polska is teaming up with Ericsson and Poland’s Institute of Telecommunications to test the use of drones in a 5G test network. The basestation will be launched at the Institute’s facility using test frequencies provided by UKE, Poland’s Office of Electronic Communication.
  • Still in Poland, mobile operator Play Communications is hoping to roll out a 5G network in the northern city of Gdynia, making it the first in the country to offer commercial next-generation services, according to a Reuters report. Play says that it has the necessary equipment in place, but is just waiting for the nod from UKE before it can flick the switch.
  • Openreach has appointed Kasam Hussain as its new partnership director for the Midlands region of the UK, working with local authorities to help grease the wheels of the company’s fiber rollout. Hussain has previously managed Openreach’s broadband collaborations in Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire.

    Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, Light Reading

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