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UPDATE NGA Broadband Reaches 87.9% of UK as FTTH Tops 251K Premises

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 (2:00 pm) - Score 1,504
fibre optic and ethernet network cables

The latest information on superfast broadband availability has revealed that, at the end of June 2014, some 87.9% of premises in the United Kingdom were in areas that are listed as offering services via a Next Generation Access (NGA) network and some 251,522 (premises passed) were potentially within reach of a true ultrafast (100Mbps+) fibre optic (FTTH/P/B) connection.

The data, which stems from a sneak preview of a forthcoming Point Topic report that was given to ISPreview.co.uk, suggests a modest improvement in the availability of Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P/B) style ultrafast broadband services. At the same time last year this figure was sitting at a total of just 186,500 premises (i.e. +65,022 or +34.86% annual growth).

As usual most of this growth in true fibre optic connectivity has come from BTOpenreach’s FTTP network, which is known to have around 150,000 premises passed under its belt. Last year BT’s FTTP deployments slowed in favour of a greater focus on their cheaper hybrid Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) service, which has left room for faster FTTP/H/B rivals like B4RN, KC, IFNL, CityFibre, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear to grow, although BT are once again starting to pick-up the pace a bit through the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme.

Meanwhile both TalkTalk and Sky Broadband are also deploying some FTTH/P/B networks, albeit mostly alongside CityFibre in the city of York. At present none of these operators look likely to top BT’s solo total this year, although it does increasingly seem as if this side of the NGA market is being driven by alternative network operators (altnets).

Otherwise most of the UK market for next generation broadband services remain broadly dominated by slower hybrid-fibre connections, predominantly those supplied via BT’s up to 80Mbps capable FTTC technology and Virgin Media’s 152Mbps cable (DOCSIS3) platform. By contrast true fibre optic lines have the potential for delivering multi-Gigabit speeds, although most related services currently max out at 1000Mbps.

Premises Passed by Technology (June 2014)
* FTTB 56,907
* FTTP/H 194,615
* FTTx (FTTC) 19,902,146
* HFC (Cable/DOCSIS3) 13,354,000

Crucially Point Topic states that the 87.9% figure given at the start of this article assumes that all premises in an exchange that has been “activated” for any form of fibre and cable based service can achieve superfast speeds (note: the EU/Ofcom define this as 30Mbps+ and the UK Government puts the benchmark at 24Mbps+). As we know this doesn’t always reflect reality as many people, such as customers that reside too far away from an FTTC street cabinet, can struggle to receive speeds of greater than 24Mbps.

However Point Topic’s own street cabinet estimates, when run against activated telephone exchanges, found that FTTx (inc. FTTC) should be able to support 30Mbps+ to some 18.74 million premises (note: we’ll clarify the figure for 24Mbps+ by tomorrow). But the analyst admits that this figure appears to be higher than some other predictions, not to mention Ofcom’s recent availability estimate of 78% (here), and so caution is advised.

Similarly it’s often one thing to estimate performance using ideal circumstances and another to see what real-world customers on the ground are actually receiving, with many factors (e.g. poor home wiring, network congestion) having a potential to impact the results.

At this point it’s also important to remind readers that the United Kingdom is only home to a total of around 26.4 million households (note: we don’t have a reliable total for dedicated business premises) and thus there’s a lot of network overlap in the above table. Broadly speaking Virgin Media’s HFC/cable network is also almost entirely covered by BT’s rival FTTC service and a lot of the urban altnet FTTH/P/B deployments similarly overlap with rival networks.

But if you do choose to take Point Topic’s figure as gospel then the Government’s original aim of making “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) speeds available to 90% of people in each local authority area by the end of 2015 now looks likely to be exceeded, with the next 95% target by 2017 seeming almost easy.

Elsewhere it’s worth remembering that BDUK’s rapid roll-out of FTTC with BT has so far stemmed from an initial focus on sub-urban areas, which will surely slow as the project starts to creep into increasing numbers of sparse rural communities (i.e. it takes longer to cover X amount of people).

UPDATE 11th September 2014

Apparently the figure able to support 24Mbps+ is 19.9 million, but take with a pinch of salt.

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Mark Jackson
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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13 Responses
  1. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

    If, as one county councillor in Shropshire was recently told by BT, they can’t guarantee superfast speeds beyond 1.2Km from a cabinet, then I simply don’t believe it. Surely the best test is to take a few areas where all cabinets are fibre-enabled, and run speeds tests in as many premises as possible. I have submitted an FOI to DCMS on this. They have passed the statutory time period without answering so I have submitted an Internal Review request.

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/rural_broadband_programme#outgoing-383955

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      Rather than performing speed tests, it seems to me that OR ought to be able to collect the (maximum achievable) sync speeds on lines with FTTC service. The throughput should be better than 90% of sync speed. Of course that doesn’t allow for back-haul congestion, but it’s the fundamental capability of the line connected to the house that is most relevant. Congestion issues can be dealt with. Using sync speed capability has the great advantage of being a passive measure which does not require action by the householder (and is not subject to distortions caused by poorly controlled tests involving the use of WiFi etc.).

      Of course there will be an obvious positive bias (as there would be with speed tests) in that some may well choose not to use FTTC if it overs little benefit. However, an analysis of the distribution of estimated length of lines connected to an FTTC-enabled cabinet ought to provide evidence, especially if matched against real results.

      It’s to be hoped that the BDUK contract negotiators have thought about how to get BT to demonstrated the efficacy of their solutions, so I would hope that something along these lines (no pun intended) has been planned. Now it may well be that on the commercial roll-out, there may be some sensitivities, but for BDUK enabled lines, there must surely be some method of validation.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Seems like a perfectly reasonable request, though perhaps you should direct the Shropshire-only part at Shropshire council. In the listed links to similar requests, I note that someone asking Leeds council about EO lines on the Wetherby exchange did get an answer.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Patrick,

      I just worked out some figures from North Yorkshire; they gave enough detail when planning how to spend some additional funding (they call it phase 2, but it isn’t SEP funding).

      The proposal mentions that after the phase 2 funding is spent, 89-90% of all premises will get superfast speeds (ie the combined commercial & intervention areas). The county has 379,000 premises, and the intervention area has 195,000 premises.

      After phase 2, within the intervention area, they’d have 188,404 (97%) connected to fibre-based broadband, and 161,044 (83%) at superfast speeds. I make that 85% of those connected to a fibre solution getting superfast speeds.

      But…
      If the FTTRN trials are successful, they’d get an extra 5,000 premises into the SF speed category: Still 188,404 (97%) connected to fibre-based broadband, and 166,044 (85%) at superfast speeds. I make that 88% of those connected to a fibre solution getting superfast speeds.

      As these figures are from a proposal, they must be estimates. However, the SFNY plans for phase 1 have used the same 1.2km threshold, so I’d expect phase 2 to be the same.

      There isn’t enough data to work out the equivalent percentages from the commercial area.

  2. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

    Steve – what is OR, please?

  3. Avatar gerarda

    It seems that in the space of a year Point Topic has gone from an organisation producing proper reports to one that is spouting the sort of nonsense that is endemic in this sector, It must be contagious.

  4. Avatar Sledgehammer

    If BT had said that they only have 12.1% to complete everything and it will be done by 2017, then BT may have a chance to do that.

  5. Mark

    Can you confirm this sentence:

    “Crucially Point Topic states that the 87.9% figure given at the start of this article assumes that all premises in an exchange that has been “activated” for any form of fibre and cable based service can achieve superfast speeds (note: the EU/Ofcom define this as 30Mbps+ and the UK Government puts the benchmark at 24Mbps+).”

    Does it mean that the 87.9% figure is for ALL premises connected to an exchange that is marked as Activated, and not just those potential premises that are connected to an FTTC enabled cabinet, on an activated exchange?

    It’s a really important distinction – more so than whether an FTTC customer has superfast speeds or not (which is still very important!).

    If this is where those kinds of percentage figures come from then they are going to be massively inflated.

    Nic

    • Avatar Patrick Cosgrovepa

      Nic

      This is what Im driving at here with my (as yet unanswered) FOI request, although it’s difficult word things in such a way to guarantee a straight reply

      https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/rural_broadband_programme#outgoing-383955

      Patrick Cosgrove
      Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Broadband in Rural Areas

    • Avatar TheFacts

      If ‘assumes that all premises in an exchange that has been “activated” for any form of fibre and cable based service can achieve superfast speeds’ is correct the whole thing is a waste of space.

    • Hi Patrick

      I’ll happily make a similar request if you think it would put more pressure on. It’s pretty outrageous that you haven’t actually had a reply. I’m not the FOI’s biggest advocate, but there are definitely times like this when it’s reason is clear.

      TheFacts – completely agree, and for a long time now I have been saying to people that the numbers just don’t add up or even feel right.

      I’ve been doing some analysis on what we do have from BT, which I am going to write a blog post on fairly soon, but I want to make sure everything I write is as accurate as possible.

      At that point I would appreciate everyone here weighing in, for good or ill, as the coverage figures and the predicted speed figures really need thrashing out, to see if we can come to some kind of consensus on the data we have.

      Nic

  6. Avatar Patrick Cosgrovepa

    Dear Nic, Have a go. You are clearly more technically savvy than me so if/when they do reply, to you it might be a batter answer than I get.

    Kind regards

    Patrick

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