Openreach announced this week that it will extend its high-speed, full-fiber broadband network to 94 new rural towns and villages in Northern Ireland by March 2022.
That brings the number of Northern Ireland locations included in the company's fiber-build program so far to 124. In a press release, Openreach said it is "building to 750 premises every day."
Openreach, backed by BT, is in the process of rolling out FTTP to 20 million UK premises over the course of the decade. Last week saw the launch of Openreach's network in Edinburgh, making broadband services available to 80,000 homes and businesses.
The expansion into Northern Ireland follows the release of a report from Openreach deeming high-speed connectivity as essential to the country's ability to recover from COVID-19, as well as to withstand the forthcoming economic consequences of Brexit.
Overall, Northern Ireland fares better than most of the UK in terms of broadband infrastructure, with full-fiber networks (capable of reaching 1 Gbit/s speeds) now reaching nearly half of all premises, up from just 10% two years ago. The national average for the UK is only 14%.
But the picture looks different in more rural areas: Despite far-reaching fiber, as of 2019 Northern Ireland also had the highest number of individuals (12%) across the UK who had never used the Internet; and nearly 11% of premises in Northern Ireland achieve speeds of less than 30 Mbit/s (vs. the UK average of 3.9%).
"As we look to economic recovery and to make plans for future economic development and growth in Northern Ireland, it is vitally important that our rural towns and villages are not left behind," said Retail NI exec Glyn Roberts, in Openreach's press release about the rural expansion. "Investing in key infrastructure projects such as the build and roll out of Full Fibre broadband across the region is integral to this and will provide support for existing businesses in rural communities as well as for the next generation of SMEs."
According to research conducted by the Centre for Business and Economic Research (CEBR) in 2019, before COVID-19 changed the workforce as we know it, the full deployment of full fiber broadband by 2025 was projected to boost the economy by £1.3 billion (US$1.6 billion) and employment by 1.6%.
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor, Light Reading