Digital network infrastructure firm Openreach has announced it will create about 5,300 jobs as it accelerates the rollout of next-generation full-fibre broadband across the UK.
About 2,500 of the new roles will be at separate BT subsidiary Openreach and 2,800 will be created in its supply chain, at its construction partners, for example. The broadband network firm is investing £12bn to connect 20 million homes and businesses by 2030.
The company said it would train people from scratch so recruits would not need engineering skills to apply for the jobs. It said recent recruits had included former military personnel, trainee vets and shop workers.
The UK is not one of the higher ranking countries when it comes to broadband speeds and the modernisation of its digital network. Only 18% of households have access to fast fibre, while many developed countries are beyond 80%, and the old copper network is still used by a lot of homes.
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Recent studies have shown that at a typical UK household it takes more than twice as long to download a movie than the average home in western Europe.
In September, an annual study of broadband speeds, that ranked 221 countries and territories, showed that the UK had dropped 13 places, placing it 47th fastest in the world. In 2019, the UK ranked 34th for average broadband speed.
Consumers in 21 countries, including major economies such as Spain, Germany and France, as well as Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland the Netherlands and Denmark, enjoyed faster speeds, found the study. Hungary, Romania, the Scandinavian countries also all enjoyed higher rankings than the UK.
“The UK is comparatively late in its rollout of pure fibre networks, which is causing it to stagnate while other nations gain ground,” said Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms analyst at Cable.co.uk, which publishes the report.
However, Openreach has accelerated rollout, enabling 40,000 homes each week to get access although analysts say this will need to increase further to around 50,000 if its targets are to be met.
Telecoms regulator Ofcom, said this week that gigabit-speed technology was now installed at 27% of UK households.
The benefits of extending the reach of full fibre have been underlined by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, which has calculated that a nationwide full-fibre broadband network would boost UK productivity by £59bn by 2025. It could enable nearly one million more people to access employment.
Boris Johnson’s election manifesto of 2019 pledged to make full-fibre broadband available across the country by 2025. This has since been diluted to 85% coverage, and includes homes that can access gigabit-speed technology not only through full fibre but via 5G network signals and copper wires.
Ofcom revealed this week there were 190,000 “forgotten” premises including homes and offices across the UK unable to get minimum broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps. This is the minimum deemed necessary to cope with modern needs, from downloading a film to streaming music or TV services.
Openreach has pledged to close this gap and make new fibre-to-the-property connections available to 3.2 million premises in 250 towns and villages, including Thurso in the far north of Scotland, Aberystwyth on Cardigan Bay in Wales and Lingfield in Surrey.
The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said: “I welcome this tremendous investment by Openreach. It will help us build back better from the pandemic and create thousands of new high-skilled jobs delivering faster broadband to people across the UK.”