Accelerating full-fibre gigabit growth sees UK altnet association start 2022 on strong note

Independent Networks Cooperative Association enjoys continued membership boom as altnets maintain momentum in UK after several years of record investment

After a year in which UK broadband altnets are said to have received record levels of investment, the new year has seen a steady stream of new members to the sector’s trade body.

The Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA) says 19 new members have joined since the end of 2021 from various areas of the sector and from all over the world. They include industry stakeholders alongside new market entrants, major suppliers and local authorities. New members include Nokia, Lightspeed, KCOM, MS3 Networks, Wurzel, J Bayliss Consulting, Siklu, Frontier Networks and Precision Optical Transceivers.

INCA believes the rate at which it is welcoming important stakeholders reflects the group’s growing influence and coincides with the effort to build on the impressive findings of the most recent Point Topic report outlining the current robust state and growth of the UK’s gigabit broadband arena.

Even though the study found that the major firms had enjoyed a strong 2021 – with Virgin Media O2 completing its DOCSIS 3.1-based gigabit broadband roll-out to 15.5 million homes and BT broadband provision division Openreach adding nearly 700,00 fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) sites in the fourth quarter to reach 5.8 million – it also calculated that at the end of 2021, almost three million UK premises were passed by independent fibre networks.

Also, nine UK local authorities had installed overlapping networks from three independent fibre network operators, while 79 local authorities had two independent fibre networks intersecting.

That report’s estimate of nearly £12bn to be invested before the end of 2025 is now expected to be closer to £15bn, given recent investment pledges ahead of the 2022 Point Topic survey, which is currently being compiled.

INCA CEO Malcolm Corbett said the association was thrilled to welcome new members to join it at “the forefront” of the industry. “As we continue to grow year on year, our collective strength makes us ideally positioned to represent the interests of our sector and to press both government and Ofcom to respond to the fundamental transformation that the telecoms industry is going through, and the essential role that the altnets are playing in the delivery of Gigabit Britain,” he said.

Tim Shaw, wholesale and networks managing director at KCOM, said the Humberside-based provider was excited to have joined INCA and lend its voice to the association. In January 2020, the operator for the UK’s first full-fibre city made a £100m investment in gigabit broadband to spread its reach to surrounding areas with a network that is said to have produced an estimated cumulative economic impact of more than £469m.

“Together, we can highlight the amazing things happening in the independent sector,” said Shaw. “The data speaks for itself, and investment figures showcase the industry confidence and support that the altnets have achieved. We are proud to be involved and trust INCA to represent the interests of the altnets.”

But despite its optimism, INCA warned that to prosper, government and regulators need to work more closely together and with the industry to ensure a competitive playing field where the independent sector can continue to thrive.

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