Openreach to hire 5,000 engineers to bolster broadband rollout

The BT subsidiary Openreach is to hire more than 5,000 engineers to accelerate the rollout of next-generation full-fibre broadband across the UK.

Openreach, which controls most of the UK’s broadband network, is investing £12bn to connect 20m homes and businesses by the end of the decade. About 2,500 of the new roles will be at Openreach and 2,800 will be created at its construction partners.

It said people did not need engineering skills to apply for the jobs – among its recent recruits have beenshopworkers, former military personnel and a trainee vet.

The UK has been a global laggard in the rollout of full-fibre broadband. About only 18% of households have access to it, while many developed countries are beyond 80%, with BT’s Openreach sticking to its old copper network instead of investing in new technology.

Openreach has ramped up the speed of rollout, enabling 40,000 homes each week to get access, the equivalent of a premise every 15 seconds. This rate will need to rise to about 50,000 homes per week to hit Openreach’s target.

Making full-fibre broadband available across the country by 2025 was a key promise of Boris Johnson’s election manifesto. Since then, the government has watered down its ambitions to 85% coverage, including homes that can access similar gigabit-speed technology via 5G network signals and copper wires as well as full fibre.

On Thursday, the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, said 27% of UK households had access to gigabit-speed technology.

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.”

However, there is still a divide in the UK where people living in rural areas risk becoming what a committee of MPs has called “second-class” citizens in the digital revolution.

Ofcom revealed this week there were 190,000 “forgotten homes” across the UK unable to get broadband speeds deemed the minimum to meet a family’s needs.

The mostly rural households and offices, about 0.6% of all properties, cannot access “decent” broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps. This is the minimum deemed necessary to cope with modern needs, from downloading a film on Sky to streaming music or TV services from Netflix to Disney+.

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