UK independent network full-fibre coverage grows 50% – report

Created April 8, 2020
News and Business

A new survey compiled by the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA) and analysts Point Topic finds that the UK’s independent network providers (altnets) increased their full-fibre coverage by 50% in 2019, up from 23% growth in 2018, to pass 1.2 million premises.

Using data provided by independent network operators, the report – ‘Metrics for the UK independent network sector’ – shows strong continued investment – with financial-related announcements up by £936 million – and growth in network deployment by altnets, with rural fixed wireless connections remain stable.

INCA says there has been a significant push by the Government in recent years to provide full-fibre for all, and this is reflected in the industry as it aims to reach 2.4 million premises with full-fibre at the end of 2020 and 15.7 million premises by end-2025. Being able to achieve this is dependent on a number of factors listed in the report, including delivery times for services from Openreach or other operators, and getting wayleaves.

“The substantial increase from last year is very promising,” said Malcolm Corbett, CEO at INCA. “These impressive results are reflected in the scale of investment in the UK’s digital infrastructure. We calculate that a commitment of £6.6 billion has been announced for the independent operators. Coronavirus has demonstrated clearly the reliance we all have on connectivity. We look forward to seeing Government continuing to prioritise renewal of the UK’s digital infrastructure, both fixed-line and wireless.”

Evan Wienburg, CEO at Truespeed, which is providing full fibre infrastructure in the South West of England says, “This INCA/Point Topic report shows the significant role being played by independent full fibre network providers like Truespeed, backed by private investment, in bringing gigabit-capable broadband to left behind parts of the country. It’s great to see that the pace of delivery across the UK is on the up too, with live full fibre connections during 2019 up 17% on the previous year. Here in the South West where Truespeed is focusing its efforts, we accelerated our network build during 2019 and have also announced plans to make Wells a gigabit city.” He added, “While the COVID-19 pandemic is quite rightly at the forefront of everyone’s minds and is impacting the pace and scale of every full fibre network build, the results of this report show that the foundations are now firmly in place. The seeds of a full fibre future, which independent providers have worked tirelessly to sow, are now starting to sprout as we head into the next build phase.”

Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic is at the forefront of everybody’s minds and as noted in the report, this is having a serious impact on the telecommunications sector along with the rest of society. However, the report notes that many of the operators’ other concerns are being addressed. Planning and street work delays and/or costs, which was last year’s top issue has moved down the list, suggesting that work done by Government and local authorities is starting to pay-off.

In its assessment of 2019, the report gathered evidence suggesting that the UK’s independent network operators passed 1.2 million homes with fixed superfast or ultrafast broadband. The majority of these use ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premises or home (FTTP/H) and Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) technology. Fixed wireless networks can address up to 2.3m premises, though this is more challenging to assess accurately. The research shows that connections to WISPs remain stable at around 110,000.

Independent full-fibre providers now have 366,000 live connections, up 23% since last year.

“The independent network operator sector has seen some fantastic growth from last year,” said Annelise Berendt, Principal Associate at Point Topic. “It is clear from the report that independent operators are playing a significant role in helping the UK Government reach their full-fibre targets.”

INCA’s Spring and Summer 2020 events programme has moved online with a series of webinars. The next is ‘Serving the Gigabit Nation’ on 23rd April.

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This article was written
by Peter Dykes

Peter Dykes is a independent telecoms and technology journalist who has over that last 30 years written for a wide range of B2B publications and companies. A former BT engineer, he specialises in networks and associated support systems. He is currently Editor of Optical Connections.