Independent wholesale broadband market could connect 11 million more premises by 2025

Research from Independent Networks Cooperative Association reveals surge in demand from members to provide wholesale broadband services across the UK

Despite the Covid-19 outbreak, the UK government’s ambitious target to drive full-fibre gigabit networks to all homes in the UK by 2025 has led to a surge in deployments by the major and independent providers, with the latter sector calling for the creation of a common wholesale platform to enable independent operators to attract service providers to their networks.

According to a survey from the Independent Networks Cooperative Association (Inca), almost nine out of 10 (88.7%) of the UK’s challenger broadband network providers support the creation of a common platform through which they could provide wholesale services to third-party content providers.

Inca is supporting the development of a common wholesale platform, which it said would enable groups of independent wholesale network providers to combine and offer a real competitive alternative to the limited number of large players which currently dominate the market.

The aim is to make it as simple as possible for service providers to deliver their services over challenger networks, thus helping to foster credible competition and consumer choice in the delivery of the UK’s new digital infrastructure.

The Inca survey was carried out in summer 2020 as a response to a call from UK telecoms regulator Ofcom to have greater visibility of the industry’s view on establishing a common wholesale platform. The results show a significant interest in and support for the concept. A total of 62 responses were received from independent network operators, suppliers and consultancy firms. These results have been cross-referenced against the previous Inca/Point topic survey.

The reason for creating a common platform was clear. The independent suppliers regard the creation of a common wholesale platform is an important step forward in enabling independent operators to attract service providers to their networks by aggregating the large volume of customers they could potentially reach. By cross-referencing against the spring Inca/Point topic survey, it is has been estimated that there will be 11 million premises accessed via independent networks by 2025.

In assessing the proliferation of the varying degrees of top-end broadband in the UK, Ofcom’s the Connected Nations Update research, which looked at connectivity up until the end of May 2020, found that full-fibre broadband roll-out has increased significantly to over 4.2 million homes (14%), up from 3.5 million (12%) since the latest review.

Superfast and ultrafast broadband coverage is also continuing to expand across the UK, although to a lesser extent, rising by approximately 100,000 and 500,000 properties respectively.

Inca found that the number of premises provided with full-fibre coverage is growing rapidly, with independent networks increasing their deployment by 50% last year to 1.2 million.

However, with just over 10% of all UK premises covered with full fibre there is a long way to go. It does note that though that Virgin Media’s cable network makes a significant contribution to the government’s 2025 target.

“For some time, it has been presumed that challenger independent providers do not have the scale to attract major brands like TalkTalk and Sky,” said Inca CEO Malcolm Corbett. “However, that is changing rapidly and our research shows that the operators are keen to work together on a wholesale platform that can bridge the gap in the market.”

Inca’s survey also revealed that only 43% of the independent broadband sector is aware of the date when changes come into force governing how consumers switch between broadband providers.

Ofcom is expected to lay out the timetable in September for a new gaining provider-led switching process that will simplify the way that consumers can switch services. Inca is providing information and support to member operators to help them prepare for the changes that will take place in 2021.

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