(Pocket-lint) - Full fibre connections to the home (or business) are set to become the norm over the next few years.
Rather than having fibre to the cabinet at the end of the street and the rest of the journey being made over an old fashioned copper cable, fibre will come directly to your front door, promising huge speed improvements for our broadband connections.
Of course, Virgin Media has been rolling out fibre for years and offers around 2.5 fibre connections to homes and businesses in the UK.
Why is that?
BT subsidiary Openreach manages the majority of broadband connections in the UK and regulator Ofcom has said it won't impose a price cap on the new connections. That means that it - and the company that sells you your broadband like BT, TalkTalk, Sky or whoever can charge whatever they want. Ofcom has given Openreach a free pass, in a way.
Around 20 million homes and businesses should get fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) by 2030.
"This is good news for all fibre providers in the UK" says BT's chief executive Philip Jansen. "For us, it is the greenlight we’ve been waiting for to get on and build like fury. Full fibre broadband will be the foundation of a strong BT for decades to come and a shot in the arm for the UK as we build back better from this pandemic. Connecting the country has never been more vital".
Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at Uswitch.com, says: "These new regulations are intended to boost the pace of the fibre rollout, which has come in for criticism from two parliamentary committees in recent months.
Does the plan mean full fibre will cost you more?
In a word, yes. But it should be relatively short term. The benefit for Openreach is they can roll things out quicker with the potential of making more money - and get a return on the investment it plans to make in the region of £12 billion.
After the initial phase, good old competition should keep down customer monthly costs to an acceptable level, though fees could remain high for those who want the very fastest connections. This is basically what happened with ADSL originally.
There is an element of increased competition. Rival providers will have access to Openreach’s network of poles and underground ducts and this should halve the cost of installing new fibre for other providers.
What's the future for copper connections?
In areas where full fibre is rolled out, Ofcom (and BT) want to switch off older copper networks as soon as possible. And that means a change in traditional voice calls, too. Voice calls would also be routed over the fibre network.
Neudegg again: "Letting Openreach retire the old copper network when the new fibre system is in place is sensible and should cut costs for customers in the long run, but care needs to be taken to support particularly vulnerable customers during this transition." In other words, those elderly and vulnerable customers who rely on traditional phone services only will need careful assistance.
Ofcom is also freezing the fees that Openreach charges broadband operators using copper with speeds of up to 40Mbps after previously forcing them to be lowered.
That means areas that don't get full fibre in the next few years will get broadband at a lower cost - certainly their costs won't increase for what will become a second-rate connection.
Openreach is also not allowed to charge different rates dependent on geographic area, so for example it couldn't charge more in a rural area where it costs the company more to roll out connections.
How many homes and businesses have full fibre already?
Openreach CEO Clive Selley also said as part of the announcement: "We’ve now passed almost 4.5 million premises. Today’s regulation will allow us to ramp up to 3 million premises per year providing vital next-generation connectivity for homes and business right across the UK". Remember though that connections to premises to do not necessarily equal customers - people need to sign up to a full fibre package.
These numbers are in addition to the fibre connections from other firms like Virgin Media and CityFibre - as we said earlier, Virgin has around 2.5 million fibre connections.