NI set for 100% Fibre Broadband by 2025


UK digital infrastructure provider Openreach, which builds and maintains the largest fixed communications network in Northern Ireland, has reached a significant milestone, with 360,000 homes and businesses – more than 40 per cent of properties – now able to access Full Fibre broadband at speeds of up to 1 Gbps.

The milestone achievement comes as Openreach continues to build the Full Fibre future-proof broadband network, with an aim of reaching 525,000 premises in NI, which is 60 per cent, by the end of March 2021. This will place Northern Ireland ahead of the rest of the UK, in achieving the Government’s target of 100 per cent access to 1 Gbps speeds by 2025.

A paper, Broadband infrastructure and boosting economic recovery – The role of Full Fibre in Northern Ireland, produced by Economist Richard Johnston, Deputy Director of the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre, in collaboration with Openreach, has also been published.

As policymakers and industry work to develop an economic recovery plan for NI, post COVID-19 pandemic, the paper assesses the potential economic, social and environmental benefits that could result during the recovery phase and beyond, leveraging the investment that is being made in the Full Fibre network.

The report’s main findings show that there have been ten significant changes over the last few months that will, ultimately impact on demand for Full Fibre. These changes will lead to:

  • ‘Levelling up’ connectivity across the province can lead to greater opportunities for jobs to be located in rural rather than urban areas. Leading to economic as well as social regional rebalancing.
  • Sustainability – supporting remote working to become more commonplace, therefore reducing commuter journeys, traffic congestion and Co2 emissions.
  • Removing barriers to employment – those who are vulnerable or have caring responsibilities can enter the labour market with greater opportunities to work from home.
  • Digitalisation – supporting the use of new technology across health care, education, access to government and facilitating new technologies for home, family and social life.

Access to high speed broadband is a key advantage to Northern Ireland for the growth of high tech industry and to encourage and attract Foreign Direct Investment.

“2020 will certainly be a year that will go down in history,” declared Johnston. “A year when restrictions have had a significantly negative impact on the NI economy, leaving the region in the midst of a rapid and relatively deep downturn. It has also been a year that so far has changed how, where and in some cases when, we work, learn and relax. And we’ve seen the acceleration of existing trends such as digitisation, remote working and online commerce as well as a seismic shift towards digital working, learning and consumption.

“The Full Fibre build programme is central to NI’s digital future and economic growth and will provide the region with more reliable, faster and future-proof broadband,” stated Mairead Meyer, Director of Openreach Northern Ireland. “We’re delighted to have reached a milestone of 360,000 premises today and are on track with our plans to achieve 525,000 by the end of March 2021, covering 60 per cent of homes and businesses.  We are building right across Northern Ireland. We have recently finished projects from Bangor and Magherafelt to Enniskillen, as well as building Full Fibre to rural communities in Tamnaghmore and Upper Ballinderry amongst others.”

In addition Fibre broadband provider Fibrus has also announced a plan to plug any remaining gaps in coverage here so that 100% of Northern Ireland homes have full fibre by 2025.

The plan, which involves a £100m investment, would make Northern Ireland the first region in the UK or Ireland to reach full coverage.

Fibrus said full-fibre broadband was key to realising the full potential of digital technology – especially in regional and rural areas.

It has said that full-fibre is as key to economic development for the 21st century as railways and electricity in previous eras.

Regional Director Gary McCartney said “We welcome the announcements with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic it has demonstrated how important connectivity is with the role it is playing in supporting those working from home, connecting communities and families, and educating the next generation through home schooling. It is now imperative that the Government ensures that gigabit enabled broadband is not only properly supported but rolled out as soon as practically possible. Digital connectivity is an essential service to the rural community and must be treated as such”.

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