Ofcom seeks to speed up UK fibre rollout

The telecoms regulator has launched a review into ways of replacing existing copper networks, possibly by laying fibre through existing sewer ducts

Fibre could be laid through the UK's sewer ducts to help speed up the rollout of super-fast broadband to homes and businesses across the country.

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has launched a review into the most financially viable ways of replacing the existing copper networks. One way is making use of holes in the ground already used by other utilities such as electricity and water.

The speed offered by fibre-optic cable — up to 100Mb — is much faster than broadband speeds of existing copper networks, and is able to deal with multiple high-definition video streams and near-instant music downloads.

Fibre networks are being fitted at three estates in the UK and Ofcom is hoping to encourage further growth by laying out clear regulations for investors.

While BT is fitting the first networks, Ofcom says the new regulatory proposals will encourage widespread investment in fibre networks for the 246,000 homes and businesses built in Britain each year.

The regulations aim to do this by ensuring equal competition between communication providers and standardising telecoms products.

A spokeswoman for Ofcom said: "We want as much investment in fibre as possible as it is obviously the future for communications infrastructure. This is the purpose of these regulations, to help make fibre the standard."

The Ofcom review is expected to take about six months and will look at whether fibre can be laid within existing waterway ducts and how much new telecoms infrastructure would be needed.

Launching the review today, Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: "Super-fast broadband — next-generation access and networks — is crucial to the UK's future. These networks form part of the critical infrastructure of the country's economy."

Fibre-optic networks will serve new homes at Ebbsfleet in Kent from August, as well as two new London estates, Wembley City and Titanic Docks.

Consultation on Ofcom's proposed regulations for new-build fibre networks will finish on 25 June and the regulator launched consultation on the regulation of fibre networks for existing premises last year.

Ofcom says the regulations will also ensure protection measures for homes relying on the new networks through measures such as uninterrupted battery back-up to guarantee access to emergency calls during a power failure.