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Should the UK Invest in Full-fiber Broadband?

The race to 5G began not long ago, and it seems that China and America are leading the race neck-in-neck. In early November, China launched the largest 5G network on the globe, with companies Huawei and ZTE offering 5G-compatible phones to users around the world. New reports from Strategy Analytics, however, indicate that Apple will lead the race to 5G by the end of 2020 with a new line of 5G-compatible phones. According to these reports, Apple will account for nearly 50% of all 5G smartphone sales by the end of next year.

While China and America race to develop new 5G-capable technologies, however, the UK has turned its attention not to wireless, but to fiber-optic broadband.

The UK Labour Party, a center-left party, has delineated a plan to provide free full-fiber broadband to every home and business in the country by 2030 if it wins the general election. Currently, there are three types of broadband connection used in the UK: ADSL, FTTC, and FTTP.

ADSL, which makes up the country's old landline telephone infrastructure, uses copper cables and provides very low internet speed. FTTC uses a mixture of copper cables and fiber-optic cables made from glass or plastic. FTTC can reach speeds of 66Mbps, which is considered superfast by the UK government. FTTP uses only fiber-optic cables and can offer 1,000Mbps. Not only does it offer quick speeds, but it also offers low latency, which is incredibly important for evolving industries relying on real-time data to complete tasks.

While other countries are turning to 5G wireless connections for lower latency, faster speeds, and more coverage, the UK is turning to fiber-optic broadband. According to recently-derived figures, while the UK has better broadband coverage than other EU countries, it ranks as one of the worst EU countries for full-fiber coverage with its availability reaching only 8%. In comparison, Japan and South Korea have over 95% full-fiber coverage.

While it may seem pointless to invest in fiber-optic broadband when the future seems to point toward 5G and other wireless technologies, investing in full-fiber coverage will not only allow the UK to catch up with other countries, but it will also prepare the country for 5G.

5G, while touted as a miracle, comes with a few cons. Because it operates at a higher frequency than 4G, 5G cannot penetrate buildings and other materials as well, meaning it will require additional transmitters, which are connected using fiber-optic cables.

Furthermore, 5G wireless coverage is inconsistent, as many variables, such as weather or objects (buses, buildings, etc.), could interfere with your signal.

While it is impossible to predict the future, it doesn't seem likely that the world will go completely wireless. While wireless provides mobility, wires provide increased security, control, and speed, which means they will remain applicable to industries handling sensitive data. By investing time and resources into full-fiber coverage, the UK is making a strategic move that will put it on-par with other countries. Sources: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-50432073, https://www.itv.com/news/2019-11-15/how-does-the-uk-compare-to-other-countries-in-full-fibre-broadband-coverage/


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