Alternative full fibre broadband providers expanded their coverage by 30% in 2018, to reach 1,298,185 premises, according to a report from the Independent Networks Co-operative (INCA).
These providers, which include Cityfibre, Gigaclear, and Hyperoptic, are forecast to reach 3.38 million premises by 2020 and 15.96 million by 2025, suggesting alternative networks will be crucial as the government aims for mandatory universal full fibre coverage by 2033.
To meet these targets, alternative networks have committed £3.36 billion in private investment over the last year.
Overall, these providers and the main network Openreach have delivered full fibre connections to 1.8 million premises in Britain, according to Ofcom data from January 2019. That puts full fibre availability at 7%.
Independent data from Thinkbroadband put the reach of full fibre at just over 2 million UK premises as of April, with just under half delivered by Openreach.
Despite the rollout by both alternative networks and Openreach, most fibre broadband in Britain is delivered over slower FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) connections, which use traditional copper landline phone wires to cover the ‘last mile’ between the street cabinet and individual homes. Full fibre, or FTTP (fibre to the premise) connections make the entire journey from phone exchange to door stop on fibre optic cables.
This means faster internet. Speeds of 1 Gigabyte per second (Gbps) are common, and in the new Manhattan Loft Gardens in Stratford, London, residents will be able to access speeds of 10 Gbps with full fibre—the fastest residential broadband in the UK. In contrast, speeds offered by FTTC broadband top out at around 67 or 67 Mbps.
Full fibre, FTTP connections also offer symmetrical download and upload speeds, and less attenuation (slowing over distance travelled) than other forms of internet.
However, few of us are enjoying those dizzying speeds in Britain. Availability of full fibre stands at just 7 %. In comparison, 95% of premises in Portugal and 79% of those in Spain have access to full fibre internet.
Full fibre penetration is just 1.5% in the UK, with only 13.1% of connected premises taking it up, often due to lack of knowledge and high costs.
Full fibre connections are time-consuming and expensive to install. And analysts caution that coverage forecasts from the INCA aren’t guarantees.
INCA itself has highlighted areas it believes are stalling the expansion of the UK’s fibre optic networks. Independent network operators flagged the delays and costs associated with the planning and street works required from installation; slow delivery times from Openreach; and overbuild from other operators causing overlapping networks as the main issues slowing full fibre expansion.
However, their fourth concern, access to Openreach’s infrastructure, may have been allayed, as last week Ofcom outlined plans to require Openreach to grant access to its poles and ducts to all network providers, even those serving business customers.
Malcolm Corbett, CEO of INCA, said the recent figures were “very promising.” But he cautioned the sector, and the government, had work ahead of them.
“It is crucial … that we stay mindful of the challenges identified in the report,” he said. “For the government’s ambitious targets to be met, our main concerns remain – planning and street work costs, delivery times from Openreach, access to ducts and poles, and overbuild. Access to a pool of labour with suitable skills in a post-Brexit era is an additional concern which needs to be addressed.”
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