The FTTH Council Europe, which campaigns for the adoption of Gigabit (1000Mbps+) capable Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P) broadband technology, has published its latest 2017 global ranking and once again the United Kingdom is nowhere to be seen. But good progress is being made.
Coverage estimates for the United Kingdom vary but we’ve previously estimated that Gigabit capable FTTH/P/B broadband networks were available to around 800,000 homes and businesses (premises passed) in mid-2016 (here), although the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA) have put the figure at more like 1 million premises passed (c.650,000 from alternative network providers and the rest from Openreach (BT)).
At this point you’d be forgiven for wondering why the UK does not appear on the Council’s ranking and that’s partly because their table is based upon market penetration, where generally you need to have a certain proportion of homes subscribing to the service in order to be included and apparently we’re not quite there yet. However the Council may also be lacking a complete picture of the UK’s FTTH/P/B market.
The number of Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P) and Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) subscribers in Europe increased by 23% over the first nine months of 2016, reaching nearly 44.3 million subscribers (20.5 million in the EU28, with a penetration rate of 9.4%). Coverage (homes passed) also increased by 17%, reaching more than 148 million across the whole of the EU39 area (this includes Russia etc.).
Ronan Kelly, President of the FTTH Council Europe, said:
“The latest European FTTH ranking proves what we have believed at the FTTH Council Europe for the past year: looking at countries such as France and Spain, and the overall FTTH growth rate in Europe, it is now clear that there is a stronger than ever momentum towards FTTH.
We are glad to witness such progress, including two new countries entering our FTTH ranking. We feel that Europe is now well positioned to stimulate even more FTTH rollout: the European Commission’s recent Gigabit Society Communication sets a vision where widespread, very high capacity networks underpin the services to society that will keep Europe at the forefront of economic development.”
Both Austria and Serbia have this year reached the required 1% penetration level for inclusion.
The good news is that FTTP/H/B coverage in the UK is still set to boom, with BT committing to add another 2 million premises passed (currently c.350,000) to their total by 2020 and Virgin Media aiming to do the same by 2019. On top of that KCOM in Hull are aiming to reach 150,000 premises by December 2017 (they’ve already completed over 100,000) and they might announce another extension later this year.
Meanwhile alternative network providers (Gigaclear, Hyperoptic, B4RN, GTC etc.) have claimed that they might be able to deliver something similar to BT and Virgin’s combined commitment (here), but there’s often a big gap between altnet forecasts and actual delivery. Still we wouldn’t be surprised to see them add a couple of million to the total by 2020.
Crucially the Government has just stepped in to help altnet ISPs via a new £400 million (state aid) Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIFF), which when supported by private investment could be worth up to £1.5bn. Over the next 4 years the DIFF hopes to help an additional 2 million premises gain access to ultrafast broadband (full details). The Chancellor has also proposed a 5 year relief from business rates in order to support this (details).
As ever the challenge for altnets will be in turning bold aspirational coverage forecasts into an economically viable reality, although a UK coverage figure of around 10-20% seems plausible in the shorter term (currently it’s a shade over 2%). However this could be dramatically changed if, for example, Ofcom were successful in encouraging BT to deliver an even greater roll-out of FTTP and the altnets manage to deliver on their bold aspirations.
Never the less at this point it looks as if the UK will continue to be dominated by cheaper hybrid-fibre broadband technologies (e.g. FTTC, DOCSIS, G.fast etc.) for many years to come, although the much longer term future still seems to be heading slowly towards pure fibre optic connectivity.
Now here’s a snapshot of the global ranking.