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UK altnets increase full-fibre coverage by 50%

Independent network providers notch up notable year in 2019 as fibre access for all becomes political hot potato

For the UK fibre industry’s independent sector, 2019 can only be described as an annus mirabilis, as the green light was switched on to fibre-up the country and more evidence of the extent of the growth has come from a survey by the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA) compiled by Point Topic.

Using data provided by independent network operators, the report, Metrics for the UK independent network sector, notes that there has been a significant push by the government in recent years to provide full-fibre for all.

In the Queen’s Speech of 2019, Boris Johnson’s newly elected government indicated that it will introduce laws to accelerate the delivery of gigabit-capable broadband across the UK, and this plan has been reflected by the altnet industry as it aims to reach 2.4 million premises with full-fibre at the end of 2020, and 15.7 million premises by the end of 2025.

The report shows that being able to achieve such growth is dependent on a number of factors, including delivery times for services from Openreach or other operators and getting wayleaves.

That said, the report also found that the altnet sector ended 2019 with 50% growth year-on-year, up from 23% growth at the end of 2018, passing 1.2 million premises with fixed superfast or ultrafast broadband.

The majority of these use ultrafast fibre-to-the-premises or home (FTTP/H) and fibre-to-the-building (FTTB) technology. Fixed wireless networks can address up to 2.3m premises, though INCA concedes that this is more challenging to assess accurately.

The research also shows that connections to wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) remain stable at around 110,000. Independent full-fibre providers now have 366,000 live connections, up 23% since last year.

Read more about full-fibre networks in the UK

Looking at expectations for end-2020, INCA estimates total plans for 2.4 million premises passed, and just over 800,000 connections by fixed network operators. This does not take account of overbuild, which is already growing among independent networks operators as their coverage footprints expand.

“The substantial increase from last year is very promising,” said Malcolm Corbett, CEO at INCA. “These impressive results are reflected in the scale of investment in the UK’s digital infrastructure. We calculate that a commitment of £6.6bn has been announced for the independent operators. Coronavirus has demonstrated clearly the reliance we all have on connectivity. We look forward to seeing the government continuing to prioritise renewal of the UK’s digital infrastructure, both fixed-line and wireless.”

The altnets have been at the vanguard o driving full fire out to the non-metropolitan regions of the UK and a leading firm in this campaign has been ISP Truespeed which focuses on the West of England and has over the last six months concluded a number of deals for fibre, most recently bringing gigabit capability to the city of Wells.

Commenting on the report, CEO Evan Wienburg said: “It’s great to see that the pace of delivery across the UK is on the up, with live full-fibre connections during 2019 up 17% on the previous year. While the Covid-19 pandemic is quite rightly at the forefront of everyone’s minds and is impacting the pace and scale of every full fibre network build, the results of this report show that the foundations are now firmly in place,” he said.

“The seeds of a full-fibre future, which independent providers have worked tirelessly to sow, are now starting to sprout as we head into the next build phase.”

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