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New £400M fund for digital infrastructure investment

Researchers from UCL-led UNLOC programme give initial reactions to 2016 Autumn statement

£400M is to be set aside for a new Digital Infrastructure Fund and £740M for 5G and further roll-out of fibre connections.

Prof Andrew Ellis, UNLOC Investigator: “It is excellent news that £400m of government money is to be made available for fibre to the premises. On behalf of UNLOC, we are delighted with this initiative, and have been happy to contribute to the debate. BT has responded by stating that fibre to the cabinet is a step towards renovating the UK’s data network. BT has also announced G.Fast, which is a slightly better version of fibre to the cabinet, but only if you are close to the cabinet. With this budget, the Chancellor seems to imply that the approach taken so far is not good enough.

Fibre to the premises offers everybody light speed internet. Eliminating the ‘last mile’ of copper between the cabinet and the home would dispel all of the problems with the controversial "up to" speed claims, no matter where you live. UNLOC hopes that UK operators will follow this enlightened direction taken by the government and accelerate the deployment of fibre to the premises.”

Prof Polina Bayvel, UNLOC Director: “Like the stretched and strained rail infrastructure in the UK, our telecommunications infrastructure needs significant cash to keep up with growing demand. I hope that this fund will go some way to protect UK businesses and the public from capacity exhaust issues before it’s too late.

It is important not to forget the core fibre network infrastructure. Increased fibre access and bandwidth availability to the subscriber will give rise to the growth of both existing services and new services. Many of these have not been thought of yet and many new services such as distance education and telemedicine may transform people's lives.  It is easy for many to think that 5G technology will solve issues alone, but Wi-Fi networks can only operate when supported by a back-haul of core fibre connections. It is vital to have a forward-looking plan to ensure a high-capacity, secure fibre infrastructure.

UNLOC looks forward to continuing its work to maximise the capacity of fibre networks. We are pushing the boundaries of what is possible. We’re finding better and simpler ways to transmit at truly gold standard data rates of terabit/s and higher. These will ensure a world-leading digital economy, the UK needs a high-capacity, secure, full-fibre infrastructure for tomorrow and beyond."

We hope to provide further comment with the official release from HM Treasury.