Quarter of UK premises still lack gigabit broadband

Just days after an Ofcom survey of broadband and mobile markets showed full-fibre broadband service availability has reached majority status, the latest quarterly market investigation by Point Topic revealed that at the end of the second quarter of 2023, overall fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) coverage was just over 16.3 million premises, up from 15 million in the previous three-month period.

The analysis – reporting ready for service (RFS) premises – tracked the progress of fixed broadband between the end of March 2023 and the end of June 2023, based on the ThinkPoint broadband availability dataset, which includes 1.7 million postcodes.

The highlights of the analysis showed FTTP coverage by the end of the quarter was 50% or higher in 45.5% of local authorities (LAs), up from 38.9% of local authorities in the previous quarter. Across the UK, more than 1.7 million premises could choose between three independent fibre internet service providers (ISPs), compared with the 1.6 million recorded in the first quarter of 2023.

Yet by the end of June 2023, 25% of UK premises still did not have access to gigabit-capable broadband. This metric was 23% in England, 41% in Wales, 32% in Scotland and 7% in Northern Ireland. However, all countries of the UK saw some improvement in this area.

As of the end of June 2023, FTTP coverage was lower than 20% of premises in 10.4% of UK local authorities, compared with 14.1% three months earlier. FTTP coverage was 50% or higher in 45.5% of local authorities, up from 38.9% of LAs three months earlier.

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Looking at providers, the survey found that in the three months to the end of June 2023, there was a slight acceleration in the full-fibre roll-out of market leader Openreach, compared with the previous quarter. The study found 850,00 additional FTTP premises, up from 814,000 in March 2023, which resulted in a total recorded Openreach FTTP footprint of 10.3 million premises. This represents 32.2% of all UK premises, up from 29.7% three months earlier.

At the same time, the decline in the number of Openreach ADSL, fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC)-only and Gfast-only premises has slowed – their number went down by 706,000 compared with 810,000 in the previous three months. As before, the largest decline was in FTTC-only coverage, as this technology is being replaced by FTTP.

Looking at the proportion of total premises passed by Openreach FTTP, Point Topic found that urban centres, towns and regions outside London and the south-east dominate, with Northern Ireland enjoying particularly extensive FTTP coverage. Belfast remained the leading local authority in terms of the availability of Openreach fibre, with 94.6% of its premises passed, up from 94% in March 2023. Among the top 10 LAs by this measure, seven are in Northern Ireland.

At the end of the second quarter, overall FTTP coverage – including the Openreach FTTP network, independent fibre networks (altnets), the Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) radio frequency over glass (RFoG) network and KCOM – was 16.3 million premises, 50.8% of the UK total. This metric was up from 15 million (47.3%) in the first quarter.

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VMO2 was found to have the second largest FTTP network coverage in the UK after Openreach, having overtaken CityFibre. The company aims to have four million FTTP premises by the end of 2023 and to upgrade its entire network to full-fibre by the end of 2028. VMO2 accelerated its network roll-out, mainly via the nexfibre project, using XGS-PON technology. It added 175,500 premises in the second quarter of 2023, up from 107,800 in the previous quarter. With 1.4 million RFoG premises and VMO2 claiming a total FTTP footprint of three million homes at the end of June 2023, Point Topic estimates that the nexfibre network passes around 1.5 million homes.

The study also confirmed the rise and rise of altnets pushing ahead with their fibre roll-outs. An increasing number of altnets have exceeded 100,000 fibre premises passed, and at the end of the second quarter of 2023, the data showed CityFibre at the top of the league with 2.35 million FTTP premises covered by its network. Community Fibre passed just over one million premises, followed by Hyperoptic with 900,000, Netomnia with half a million and Gigaclear with 300,000. Among the providers with at least 100,000 premises, the highest growth recorded was for SwishFibre (121%), with brsk and Zoomm continuing to show strong growth, at 65% and 39% respectively.

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