95% of the country can now order a high speed service and reap the benefits of the digital world - with the Government confirming this morning that it had reached its superfast broadband target by the end of 2017.
And it’s difficult to put into words what an extraordinary achievement that is.
Only a handful of countries across the globe have delivered superfast speeds so far beyond their populated urban centres – and constructing a national fibre broadband network has been without doubt one of the biggest and most complex projects ever undertaken in Britain’s proud history of engineering.
We’ve come a very long way in a short space of time. In fact, the growth of internet access has been more rapid and more radical here than the growth of motorways, the railways, the postal service and possibly even mains water. And the web’s importance to our modern world can’t be underestimated. It has allowed us to do things that simply weren’t possible before.
Just three years ago, Britons used less than half the amount of data that they do today on their home broadband line. And average speeds were a third of what they are now.
Today, British shoppers spend more online per household than people in any other country1 and this pace of change shows no sign of slowing, as fast broadband becomes a crucial part of our daily lives and work.
Some people like to talk down the progress being made across Britain today, but I think it’s important that we recognise what has been achieved here by a whole army of engineers, and it’s equally important to recognise and learn from how it was achieved.
To give you a sense of scale - more than 9,300 of our people including around 5,600 field engineers and 1,450 planners have invested an incredible 145 million man hours to help deploy 84,700 kilometres of fibre optic cable. That’s enough to go to the moon and back 96 times.
Connected to this network, we have built more than 84,700 new fibre roadside cabinets which, if stacked on top of each other would reach a dizzying 70-miles high – stretching out to the edges of space.
The coordination and logistics of this project alone, encompassing multiple partners and suppliers has been staggering, and with any engineering project of this magnitude it’s obviously pretty rare to bring it in on-time and on-budget.
But thanks to the hard work of our people, we’ve managed to do that. Not only that, but we built more than we planned for.
At the start of last year we aimed to deliver fibre to 700,000 premises by the end of December 2017. Our tireless engineers got there early and then went on to deliver to a whopping 74,000 extra homes and businesses – all in time for Christmas.
The bonus of delivering on time and, in many cases, delivering early – is that we’ve also been able to hand money back to local authorities so that they can reinvest it in taking superfast broadband coverage even further.
But someone once said “it ain’t over til it’s over” and that’s so true when it comes to broadband.
95 per cent is a massive achievement but we’re still five per cent short of good enough. Let me be clear - we won’t stop until Britain gets the job done, because we want to build decent broadband to everyone.
And if one thing’s certain, it’s that technology never stands still.
Passing 27 million homes and businesses might sound like a big deal, but for us it’s a stepping stone to something much bigger.
High-speed connectivity is already the bedrock for the UK’s economy. Our ‘eGDP’ – the part of the economy driven by the internet – stands at around £180bn or ten per cent of overall GDP, which is a larger proportion than in any other G20 country, but we need to keep an eye on the future.
We want to maintain the UK’s position as a global leader by investing in the next generation of faster broadband technology – full fibre all the way to people’s homes.
We’ve already built the largest full fibre network in the UK and we’ve been accelerating our build programme to build a future-proof, large scale fibre network. Over the last year we’ve also been working closely with Ofcom, the government and industry to explore how we can go further and faster, and we look forward to unveiling a more detailed plans very soon.
Full steam ahead.
1 Research from the UK Cards Association