National Grid plots £450 million overhaul of Britain’s fibre network

An image of an open fibre cable displaying the fibres in a pink light
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The UK National Grid is gearing up to rip out and replace the entirety of Britain’s 2000km fibre optic network and replace it with modernised cables, alongside establishing a network operations centre and improve maintenance.

The £450 million project, detailed in a government contract put out to tender, comprises five distinct elements but centres chiefly on the provision, repair, support and maintenance of fibre connections from National Grid operational locations.

The contract also stipulates an “opportunity to innovate for end to end replacement” subject to the outcome of regulatory review, meaning the project could see the UK’s ageing cables ripped out and replaced with more modern infrastructure.

The programme will also see the creation of a network operations centre that will oversee provision, support and maintenance of the UK’s fibre network, as well as support for enterprise networks with continued security advancements.

The National Grid also intends to establish an Operational Telecommunications (Optel) Managed Service comprising updated SCADA systems, Optel, data services for electricity transmission, and system operation across customer-owned Optel networks. This element covers full technology replacement and maintenance, along with addressing faults, configuration, accounting, performance and security.

The contract also involves operating critical national infrastructure and maintaining enterprise networks. This latter portion includes the modernisation of the legacy MPLS transport network, SD-WAN, internet and cloud access, labour for field support, as well as hardware and infrastructure provision and maintenance.

Currently, fibre broadband is available to roughly 96% of the UK, according to price comparison platform Uswitch, but this is largely in the form of fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), with copper cables completing the journey to the premises.

Fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), or gigabit broadband, is only available to a relatively small proportion of the country, with the having previously pledged to deliver high-speed broadband to the whole of the UK by 2025. This vision is in tatters, however, due to a “litany” of shortcomings by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), according to MPs with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.