Over the next few years we expect to see the number of premises covered by ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP/H) networks in the United Kingdom rise from nearly 1 million today to around 5 million+, but which ISPs provide this service and what do you get for your money? We take a quick look.
In a Fibre-to-the-Premise / Home network the cable that enters your home or office is a pure optical fibre line, which transmits its information using laser light instead of sending electrical signals over metal cables. Related services are highly reliable and considered “ultrafast” due to the fact that they can typically deliver speeds from 100Mbps and all the way up to into multi-Gigabit territory (1000Mbps+) over just a single fibre.
The downside is that they often require a lot of civil works (e.g. road works) to roll-out, which is not only very expensive but also slow to deploy. Cost is one of the key reasons why big operators have tended to prefer the cheaper and faster to deploy hybrid fibre and copper approach (e.g. FTTC or HFC DOCSIS), although these can suffer from a significant performance detriment over longer copper line distance.
Never the less BT has now committed to deliver FTTP connectivity to 2 million premises by 2020 and Virgin Media will add around 2 million to that total by 2019 (here and here). On top of that multiple alternative network (altnet) providers, such as Gigaclear, B4RN, GTC / IFNL and Hyperoptic, to name just a few of many, are also rolling out similar services.
All of this adds up to a patchwork of network coverage, but it’s clear that the situation is improving and as such it’s time for us to examine what’s on offer.
Pure fibre optic ISPs promote a wide variety of different packages and features, thus in an effort to simplify we’ve attempted to focus on products that offer at least a download speed of 100Mbps+ (most people seem to agree that this is the point where “ultrafast” starts, although Ofcom prefers 300Mbps+ and a few would rather it began at 1Gbps+) and which preference unlimited usage (sadly not all ISPs offer this).
On top of that we’ve also tried to include packages that have been aimed more at home users, although a few ISPs do lean more towards business connectivity. As usual we only give a total cost (including line rental, where required) and have removed any special discounts so as to only show standard pricing. All prices also include VAT.
Remember that this is a basic comparison and does that not reflect all of the subtle complexities which may exist in the small print, such as included value-added features (e.g. Zen and IDNET give you a static IP, while others might add TV content, WiFi hotspots, cloud storage etc.), exit fees and /or any other hidden charges. This data was collected during early March 2017 and the list is unordered.
|DL / UP Speed||Usage||New Setup
||Contract||Included Router||Monthly Price|
|B4RN||1000Mbps / 1000Mbps||Unlimited||£150||1 Month||Yes||£30|
|Aylesbury Vale Broadband||100Mbps / 100Mbps||Unlimited||£150||12 Months||Yes||£38|
|BT||200Mbps / 20Mbps||Unlimited||£9.99||12 Months||Yes||£66.49|
|Zen Internet (Business)||220Mbps / 20Mbps||Unlimited||£25||12 Months||No||£115.20|
|IDNET (Business)||220Mbps / 20Mbps||1000GB||£?||12 Months||No||£96.60|
|Gigaclear||100Mbps / 100Mbps||Unlimited||£229.99||15 Months||Yes||£46.85|
|Hyperoptic||100Mbps / 100Mbps||Unlimited||£40||12 Months||Yes||£35|
|Seethelight (GTC / IFNL)||120Mbps / 24Mbps||Unlimited||£99||12 Months||Yes||£41|
|Direct Save Telecom (GTC / IFNL)||100Mbps / 15Mbps||Unlimited||£70||12 Months||Yes||£39.45|
|Community Fibre||100Mbps / 100Mbps||Unlimited||£0||12 Months||Yes||£35|
|ICUK||220Mbps / 20Mbps||Unlimited||£116.40||12 Months||Yes||£188.40|
|vFast||100Mbps / 20Mbps||Unlimited||£75.00||12 Months||Yes||£39.99|
|KCOM||100Mbps / 5Mbps||Unlimited||£50||18 Months||Yes||£59.99|
|Truespeed Communications||100Mbps / 100Mbps||Unlimited||?||?||?||£47.50|
|Virgin Media (DOCSIS or FTTP)||100Mbps / 6Mbps||Unlimited||£14.99 – £40||12 Months||Yes||£37.25|
|Pine Media (new price hidden on website)||100Mbps / 10Mbps||Unlimited||£60 – £130||18 Months||Yes||£50.00|
|Triple Connect||100Mbps / 100Mbps||Unlimited||£0||24 Months||Yes||£35.80|
|telcom||150Mbps / 150Mbps||Unlimited||£45||6 Months||Yes||£30.00|
|Wessex Internet||100Mbps / 10Mbps||60GB||?||12 Months||Yes||£35.00|
|Sky Broadband (Cityfibre Trial in York)||100Mbps / 100Mbps||Unlimited||?||12 Months||Yes||£38.99|
|TalkTalk (Cityfibre Trial in York)||900Mbps+||Unlimited||£0||18 Months||Yes||£21.70|
It’s important to point out that BT, Zen, IDNet and ICUK all offer FTTP via BT’s (Openreach) national infrastructure, while the others have either built their own independent network or share such a network from a different supplier. Sky actually has its own FTTP trials, as well as a separate network with Cityfibre and TalkTalk in York, but we’ve chosen to use the latter because it’s already classed as a commercially available product.
Check out our UK ISP Listings database for a more extensive summary of the ISPs.
At this point it goes without saying that FTTP/H providers vary in price by quite a wide margin, which is largely because of the many different approaches to deployment and funding being adopted around the industry. Ordinarily this might mean that smaller ISPs are more expensive than the big boys, but as you can see above that isn’t always the case.
B4RN’s network in Lancashire has managed to adopt a model that attracts funding from local communities, businesses, bank loans and also ropes in community volunteers to help build the network in exchange for shares and a free connection. As a result they can offer 1000Mbps for just £30 per month (£150 connection fee). Mind you this model works best in rural areas and it’s not so easily adapted to complex urban environments where permissions, costs and other factors can create a headache for the D.I.Y approach.
By comparison other operators’ have been able to make use of public funding to support their deployments (e.g. Aylesbury Vale Broadband) and then there are the more commercial ISPs, such as Gigaclear, Hyperoptic or Virgin Media, that largely rely on private investment (although Gigaclear has recently won a few major state aid FTTP contracts, such as in Devon and Somerset). Some roll-outs are also more demand-led than others, which fuels a certain level of assured take-up (e.g. Gigaclear’s commercial deployment).
Suffice to say that the physical deployment methods may be similar, but the sources of investment, as well as where the network is being rolled out, who is doing the actual digging and whether or not the company is profit focused or not can all play a role in the price you ultimately pay.
Finally, it is possible to get cheaper FTTP packages than those listed above (e.g. Zen, AAISP and Claranet’s 80Mbps FTTP profile etc.), but you usually have to accept a slower sub-100Mbps speed or other usage restrictions. Likewise you can also get faster options than some of those examples above, but expect to pay a lot more.
Another factor to consider is that the install time for some FTTP connections may be longer as they often require more work than traditional connections, especially if you have to dig your own trench like B4RN or AVB optionally allow. Right now the biggest limitation is still the lack of availability, which means that the vast majority of you won’t be able to get such a connection; at least not cheaply.