The spread of “ultra-fast” pure fibre optic broadband connections (FTTP/H) across the United Kingdom appears to have accelerated over the past year, with the latest estimate of premises passed delivering a total of 779,006 (up from 351,642 last year) and it’s set to reach around 4 million by 2020.
True fibre optic connectivity, such as the Fibre-to-the-Premise / Home (FTTP/H) service, generally take an optical fibre cable directly to your doorstep and this transmits information using laser light instead of using less reliable electrical signals via metal cables (Will the Real Fibre Optic Broadband Service Please Stand Up).
We also include Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) services into our summary because they’re generally able to achieve the same sort of speeds, even though some FTTB installs do have a small piece of high capacity metal Ethernet cable over the last few metres to your apartment or office.
Related FTTH/P/B connections are capable of delivering Gigabit class speeds (1Gbps+ or 1000Mbps+ if you prefer), which means they’re currently one of the most future proof ways of delivering “ultra-fast” Internet access. Unfortunately the significant civil works required to install the service also make it very expensive and slow to roll-out.
Never the less the latest data to June 2016, which is based on a mix of actual figures and some estimates collected via Point Topic and ISPreview.co.uk, highlights that the expansion of related connections is finally picking up steam.
Native FTTH/P/B Coverage Estimate (Premises Passed)
2013 = 186,500
2014 = 251,522 (+34.86%)
2015 = 351,642 (+39.80%)
2016 = 779,006 (+121.53%)
The good news is that we expect to see further rapid expansion of FTTH/P/B coverage over the next 3-4 years, with Openreach (BT), Virgin Media, Gigaclear, KCOM, Cityfibre and Hyperoptic all being among the biggest influencers.
The total also includes data from other high profile alternative network providers (altnets), such as IFNL / GTC, Fibre Options, ITS Technology, Keycom (Relish), Vision Fibre Media, B4RN, Community Fibre, Ask4, Call Flow Solutions, Sky Broadband (independent trial areas) and Cybermoor. A few smaller altnets also exist in the total, but much of the data from them is only measured in the hundreds of premises passed.
However the above total does not include any FTTP data from Virgin Media because their roll-out to 1 million+ premises by 2019 (here) has only just started and some of the numbers are apparently still considered to be “commercially sensitive“, which is also the same for a few other operators and hence we can’t detail everybody below.
As usual the biggest movement comes from BT, which last year had 160,000 premises passed with their 330Mbps capable FTTP (a 1Gbps service is due to go live soon) and this has now increased to 300,000+. Since last year BT has also announced a plan to roll-out FTTP to 2 million premises by 2020 (here), which explains the rapid acceleration in deployments.
Meanwhile KCOM in Hull and East Yorkshire has pushed FTTP out to 78,000 premises (up from 50,000 last year) and they’re heading for around 150,000 by the end of December 2017. Elsewhere Hyperoptic, which mostly tends to focus on big residential apartment (MDU) and office blocks in UK cities, is predicted to cover around 200,000 premises and they aim to reach roughly 500,000 over the next 2-3 years.
Rural focused ISP Gigaclear has also been playing an increasingly large role and recorded 20,000 premises passed during early 2016 (here), although they’re well on their way to covering 40,000 by the end of this year and they’re even talking about reaching 100,000 by the end of 2017. This ISP probably deserves more praise than most due to its focus on smaller rural areas.
Another key contributor is Cityfibre, although they tend to prefer the wildly misleading “addressable market” gauge of theoretical coverage instead of actual premises passed. But we do know that they have around 20,000 premises passed in Bournemouth and the most recent figure for York is 11,000. On top of that you can probably add a few thousand business and public sector FTTP connections. However the UK fibre network acquisition from KCOM has confused matters, but we’ll try to get a solid figure for next year’s update.
Finally it’s worth pointing towards the community built B4RN network in remote rural parts of Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire, which has connected around 1,800 premises to its 1Gbps FTTH/P network. We can’t easily give a premises passed total for B4RN because they go where communities / volunteers support them and thus we count actual connections instead.
Admittedly some operators, such as Sky (Sky Broadband), appear to have scaled back their ambitions (here). On the other hand Vodafone are pondering whether or not to build their own fibre optic network (here), although we’d be quite surprised if they did that without first gobbling another major fixed line ISP like Virgin Media.
At this point it’s important to remind readers that the United Kingdom is home to a total of around 26.7 million households and nearly all of those can get a fixed line broadband service, although the vast majority are reached by older, slower and cheaper methods like ADSL2+ or hybrid-fibre solutions like FTTC or HFC DOCSIS (Cable).
The good news is that over the next few years we’re finally going to see FTTH/P/B connections make a noticeable impact in the United Kingdom’s telecoms and broadband market, reaching something around 4 million premises passed by 2020.
NOTE: Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) should not be confused with Openreach’s significantly slower and confusingly named Fibre-to-the-Basement technology (example), which is VDSL2 based and excluded from our summary.