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UK Ultrafast FTTH Fibre Optic Broadband Lines Slow to Grow – Global Ranking

Wednesday, Feb 19th, 2014 (3:36 pm) - Score 3,893

The FTTH Council Europe, which campaigns for the widespread adoption of true Fibre-to-the-Home (100Mbps+) broadband ISP connections, has published its latest annual table of global FTTH coverage and revealed that growth in the United Kingdom has slowed and continues to offer less than 1% penetration (234k premises passed at 10.3% uptake).

At present most of the “super-fast broadband” (25 – 30Mbps+) coverage in the UK is being delivered via slower but cheaper and quicker to deploy hybrid-fibre (fibre optic mixed with older copper and coax cables) solutions like BT’s Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology and Virgin Media’s cable (Euro/DOCSIS) network. It’s an economically sensible approach for serving medium-term demands but also one that will need significant upgrades in the future.


By contrast many others believe that the only true Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband technology is a real fibre optic line, which uses a glass (silica) or plastic cable to transmit information using pulses of laser light (aka – fibre optic / FTTH / FTTP / FTTB) and it does this all the way up to your home. This kind of connection is very expensive / slow to roll-out but can already deliver stable speeds of 1000Mbps (Megabits per second) and will go much faster in the future as demand rises.

Until recently the bulk of the United Kingdom’s FTTH/P/B lines actually came from BTOpenreach’s national telecoms and broadband network, which as part of their £2.5bn commercial FTTC/P deployment originally set out to make a native FTTP network available to around 2.5 million premises. But high costs and delays, not least with the end-user installation process, ultimately caused this target to be abandoned (here) in favour of an expensive FTTP on Demand (FoD) service that home users are less likely to buy (here).

So it’s perhaps no surprise to find that the total UK figure of homes passed, which stood at 199,000 in December 2012 with 8.5% uptake (at that time around half came from BT), has failed to achieve a place in this years ranking table (much like Germany) and therefore hasn’t changed much from last year. The recent statistics from Point Topic also seem to support this (here).

global ftth ranking 2014

But UK growth hasn’t stalled and instead most of today’s expansion is now being driven by smaller ISPs / altnets. For example, Hyperoptic recently confirmed that its FTTB network will soon reach 35,000 homes passed (up from 20,000 last year) and KC in Hull have also reported similar progress (24,700 premises passed). Lest we not forget the on-going fibre optic developments from B4RN, CityFibre, ASK4, Call Flow Solutions and Gigaclear among others.


All of the smaller operators have even bigger goals for the future. Similarly it’s also important to remember that BT does still deploy some FTTP/B and often as part of the publicly funded Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme, although it’s unclear how far this will take them in the future.

So last year’s demise of BT’s original FTTP target might have been a heavy blow but it also appears to have emboldened the incumbent’s rivals into targeting even more areas and growing their own fibre optic networks. BT might not be able to make the model work but others clearly see it as a viable investment.

Meanwhile it should be said that BT’s future upgrade path is likely to include Fibre-to-the-Distribution-Point (FTTdp) technology, which works like FTTC to reduce the length of slower copper in BT’s network and extend the reach of their fibre optic lines even closer to homes. It’s predicted that this, when used alongside other technologies like G.fast (aka FTTC2), could deliver speeds of several hundred Megabits per second. But it’s also a complex and expensive upgrade to install and maintain.

Overall there are now 9.5 million FTTH subscribers in Europe and 10.6 million in Russia, yet there’s also no escaping that the UK will struggle to climb the council’s fibre rankings in the future. But whether or not this even matters tends to depend entirely upon your perspective. Fibre is not a cheap technology to roll-out but one day it could become necessary and some are already looking towards that future.



It’s worth noting some new statistics from IDATE today, which noted that on a global scale FTTH/B represented 66% of FTTx subscriptions at mid-2013 and this compares with 22% for FTTLA and 12% for FTTN+VDSL (the latter is what Virgin and BT tend to use / hybrid fibre).

hybrid fibre vs fibre optic adoption idate

IDATE also predicts that Eastern Europe will see its take up rate of FTTx (hybrid and fibre optic) connections increase from 28% to 49% in 5 years, which looks set to be much higher than in Western Europe where the figure is predicted to go from 21% at end 2012 to 32% in 2017.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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