UK altnets accelerate as fibre forges path to be fixed broadband standard

Research shows how direct fibre connections are lighting up the world of broadband, rapidly deposing copper-based legacy DSL networks

The data fundamentally shows that copper networks have been losing customers to more advanced technologies for years, and research from Point Topic has revealed the deployment of copper-based DSL networks will likely drop to hundreds or tens of thousands in most technologically advanced markets, such as the UK, where a thriving independent sector is sending fibre connections almost literally through the roof.

The study calculates that at the end of the period between Q4 2021 and Q4 2030, there will be 1.6 billion fixed broadband subscribers worldwide, compared with 1.27 billion in Q4 2021, up by 26%. It predicts that as many as 88% of the fixed broadband subscribers will be in the top 30 broadband markets, ranked as such by the subscriber numbers recorded in Q4 2021.

China is set to remain the largest fibre broadband market in 2030, boasting a projected 523 million subscribers, with a surging India second and the US third. Even though the top 10 is dominated by the developing markets, Japan, France and the UK are listed as leaders.

The fast-developing markets of Vietnam, Chile and Indonesia, as well as the established fibre markets of China, Japan, Sweden, France and Korea, are also in the top 10.

However, Point Topic stressed that even though direct fibre growth will dominate this decade, the potential for networks based on FTTC/VDSL and coaxial cable could not be completely discounted as they are preferred by some operators – especially their more advanced versions, such as DOCSIS 3.1. Point Topic said it has seen such players going strong in some markets, though it predicts the overall trend of decline in the number of subscribers using these technologies at the expense of direct fibre.

The survey noted that Spain and the UK are set to have the highest fibre penetration among households in 2030, due to their ambitious fibre roll-out projects.

Point Topic said the latter’s ambitions have been boosted by a thriving alternative provider (altnet) sector whose fixed full-fibre network infrastructure is expected to reach more than 11.5 million premises at the end of 2022, with an estimated 1.4 million live connections and 10.3 million by the end of 2025. By this time, the analyst said infrastructure competition will be in full swing, offering consumers real choice. It noted that full-fibre investment by the altnets, as well as funding by the major suppliers and UK government, is expected to reach £36.7bn.

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The survey noted that Openreach’s long-term fibre-to-the-premise pricing offer (Equinox), which could substantially help the BT-owned broadband provision division overbuild existing altnet networks and impact their deployment plans – particularly regarding wholesale, was in the top five sector concerns.

Most survey respondents (72%) reported they were at the start of the migration process for implementing Ofcom’s One Touch Switch system, due to come into effect in April 2023, compared with 8% who were “substantially ready”.

Access to qualified skills and labour, particularly post-Brexit, was viewed as a significant challenge by 29% of operators compared with 10% in the previous year.

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