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UK homes and businesses increasingly turn to altnets for connectivity

The UK Independent Network Sector report shows that the independent broadband sector has doubled in size over the previous year

A report from analyst Point Topic, compiled on behalf of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA), has revealed that more than 5.5 million homes and businesses in the UK can now connect to an independent fibre broadband network – and for the first time, the total number of live connections provided by the “altnets” is above one million.

Based on data provided by independent network operators across the country, the 2022 Metrics for the UK independent network sector report shows that the sector has again doubled in size over the previous year, and is increasingly becoming a prized source of investment.

The study showed that the UK altnet sector continued to pull in significant sums of private funding, with investment and expenditure commitments predicted to reach £17.7bn by the end of 2025.

INCA noted that when combined with the £12bn confirmed by BT Group, the £5bn announced by the UK government and £2bn planned by Virgin Media O2, investment levels will exceed the previous estimates of £30bn for bringing next-generation networks to every property in the UK.

The report also showed that fibre broadband networks from the UK’s independent operators grew 111% year-on-year at the end, compared with 110% from 2019-2020 and 52% from 2018-2019. The majority use gigabit fibre-to-the-premises or home (FTTP/H) and fibre-to-the-building (FTTB) technology, with legacy VDSL increasingly being phased out.

Growing provider CityFibre alone accounted for more than one million of the premises passed by independent networks, and INCA observed that as CityFibre moved up the ranks in terms of FTTP infrastructure providers, they are moving into the realms of a true national network.

It also noted that Community Fibre has passed half a million homes in London, WightFibre has established itself as the main full-fibre provider on the Isle of Wight and INCA members are building full-fibre networks across all parts of the UK. Fixed wireless access (FWA) networks were estimated to cover more than two million premises, although not all of them will have full-speed service.

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The 1.03 million live connections to independent fixed networks primarily provided by full-fibre and gigabit connections already represent a 20% take-up rate in an expanding footprint, demonstrating, said INCA, that residential consumers in particular demand better bandwidth, symmetry and stability.

Fixed full-fibre network infrastructure supplied by independent operators is expected to reach more than 11.5 million premises at the end of 2022, with an estimated 1.4 million live connections. By the end of 2025, these operators are projecting 10.3 million live connections across their networks.

“This continued high level of investment, coupled with commitments from others in the private sector like BT and Virgin Media, and the money being put in by government, shows that the UK is on track, for the first time in its history, to have proper broadband infrastructure competition,” said INCA’s chief executive, Malcolm Corbett.

“Independent network operators are a key piece of this connectivity jigsaw, which will offer consumers real choice and drive innovation in the broadband services they consume.”

INCA chairman Alex Blowers said: “This report shows the increasing maturity of the independent broadband sector.

“It’s now transitioning from fundraising and planning mode to its delivery and execution stage, and is undeniably a key partner in the delivery of a 21st century, digital UK.

“It’s crucial that the government and Ofcom ensure momentum is maintained, by evolving the underlying policy and regulatory framework in support of the infrastructure competition that has now arrived in the UK.”

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