Ultrafast broadband quickens pace across UK

Analyst’s bi-monthly update on broadband infrastructure deployments in the UK highlights uptick in progress of fibre-to-the-premises and gigabit infrastructure in the UK in the months from August to October 2022

Over the past two years, news of gigabit broadband deployment across towns and cities in the UK by major broadband providers and altnets alike has become commonplace. Point Topic analysis of the extent of deployment of ultrafast broadband in the UK has revealed that by the end of October 2022, fibre-to-the premises (FTTP) networks had passed 41% of UK premises, up from 38% two months earlier, while the number of UK premises not having access to gigabit-capable broadband was down from 30% in August 2022 to 29%.

The analysis was based on the ThinkPoint broadband availability dataset, which includes 1.7 million postcodes with more granular, postcode-level broadband availability updates by ISP and technology.

As of the end of October 2022, the overall FTTP coverage in the UK, including Openreach FTTP network, independent fibre networks, Virgin Media O2’s radio frequency over glass (RFOG) network and KCOM, was almost 13 million premises, 41% of the UK total. This metric was up from 38% two months earlier and also compared with 34% in April 2022. In 23% of local authorities the FTTP coverage was lower than 20% of premises. It was 50% or higher in 26% of local authorities.

As an indication of the continued growth of the UK’s altnet sector, Point Topic found that across the UK, 925,000 premises could choose between three independent fibre ISPs, with Coventry being top of the charts in this category. More than 1.7 million premises had access to two or more independent fibre providers.

Looking at the performance of the individual network providers, the study recorded a similar pace in the Openreach full-fibre roll-out in September and October 2022, compared with the previous two months. It found 451,000 additional FTTP premises, which resulted in a total recorded FTTP footprint of 8.2 million premises, 26% of all UK premises.

As in previous months, Point Topic observed that the number of Openreach ADSL, FTTC-only and Gfast-only premises continued to decline, with the focus staying on FTTP deployment, aimed at covering 25 million premises by the end of 2026. The analyst noted that to achieve this goal, Openreach would need to cover around four million premises a year from now on, while it recorded 2.8 million new FTTP premises passed by the company in the past 12 months.

In terms of the percentage of total premises passed by Openreach FTTP, cities, towns and regions outside London and the South East dominated, with Northern Ireland especially well covered. Belfast continues to be at the top of the list, with 93% of premises passed by Openreach FTTP.

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Given that Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) had already announced the completion of its gigabit broadband roll-out, Point Topic found only 55,000 additional VMO2 gigabit premises between the end of August 2022 and the end of October 2022.

With 1.2 million RFOG premises passed, VMO2 was found to be the third largest FTTP network operator in the UK, after Openreach and CityFibre. The operator is planning to extend this further by building FTTP to five million homes by 2026, through a joint venture between Liberty Global, Telefonica and InfraVia, and making the network available to other providers on a wholesale basis. Point Topic speculated VMO2 may add another two million homes to this project at a later date.

The study found that as of October 2022, VMO2’s gigabit network covered 82% of local authorities and 49% of the total UK premises. In 188 (50%) of local authorities, VMO2’s gigabit coverage was 50% and higher, while in 29% it was lower than 20%. Significant parts of the Southwest, Northwest, Northeast, Scotland and Wales (18% of UK LAs) had no VMO2 gigabit coverage.

The independent fibre network operators are also getting on with full fibre roll-outs. As of the end of October 2022, the Point Top figures showed CityFibre leading the way with 1.6 million FTTP premises covered by its network. The operator aims to pass eight million premises by the end of 2025. Vodafone, TalkTalk and Zen remained the largest retail providers using the CityFibre network.

Other altnets

Looking at other altnets, the study found that Hyperoptic had the second-largest independent FTTP network, with more than 700,000 premises passed, and their plan is to cover two million homes by the end of 2023.

Community Fibre, the recent recipient of a massive cash injection,  was a close third, with over 700,000 premises passed, followed by GNetwork with around 400,000 and Gigaclear with almost 300,000. Trooli and ITS were approaching 200,000 premises.

Point Topic recorded the highest growth in premises passed since August 2022 for ZZoomm and Brsk, at 88% and 59% respectively among providers with at least 50,000 premises passed. Jurassic Fibre, Toob and Fibrus also saw significant growth in the past two months.

Despite the growth in deployments, the study also warned that network overlap by independent fibre providers has increased further. In October 2022, 69 local authorities had overlapping networks from three independent fibre ISPs, up from 66 two months earlier. Coventry, Peterborough and Milton Keynes led the way in terms of the percentage of premises covered by three FTTP providers, with 77%, 76% and 73% respectively. Coventry was top of the list by the number of premises covered, with 118,000.

Another 125 local authorities had two independent fibre providers overlapping, up from 120 two months earlier. London and the Southeast were well represented in this category, but not exclusively. In total, 600,000 premises were passed by two independent fibre providers.

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