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2017 EU Broadband Progress Report Puts UK Bottom for “Full Fibre” Cover

Monday, May 15th, 2017 (4:06 pm) - Score 7,358

The European Commission has published their annual 2017 European Digital Progress Report, which confirms that Ireland, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Greece all lag behind the rest of the 28 EU member countries when it comes to ultrafast “full fibre” (FTTH/P/B) broadband coverage.

The latest report is more of a complement to the 2017 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which covered a lot of the same information and was published in March (read our summary). Since then some extra data has been added (note: it’s mostly still data from June/July 2016) and the new report includes a useful country-by-country breakdown of progress towards the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE).

The 2020 DAE set several targets but the main one called for every home to gain access to a 30Mbps+ capable Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband connection by the year 2020 (plus 50% subscribed to a 100Mbps+ service). On this front the United Kingdom is actually doing very well (92.3% coverage vs 76% across the EU), which is largely thanks to strong availability via FTTC (VDSL2+) from Openreach (BT) and Cable DOCSIS from Virgin Media.



The UK also looks as if it might be able to achieve (or at least get fairly close) to the secondary target, which called for 50% of consumers to be subscribed to a 100Mbps+ service by 2020. Thanks to Virgin Media’s ultrafast cable network the UK has already made reasonable progress on this front, which is likely to improve significantly given that Virgin has recently made 100Mbps their entry-level speed.

The future deployment of more G.fast and FTTP should also give this a boost but we doubt whether that will be enough to reach the 50% mark by 2020. Likewise not every UK consumer sees a need for 100Mbps+ and many will be happy to pay less for a slower speed connection. Getting the raw network coverage sorted remains more important but strong penetration also helps the economic model for ultrafast services, which can encourage more investment into related roll-outs.


Despite this progress the United Kingdom is clearly lagging behind when it comes to the coverage of ultrafast pure fibre optic (“full fibre“) broadband networks, such those supplied via Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP/H) and Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) technology. We know that there are around a million such lines in the UK today but other EU countries are clearly moving ahead.

In Portugal and Latvia more than 80% of homes can already subscribe to FTTP services, while in Greece, Belgium, UK, Ireland, Germany and Austria less than 10% can do so (c2% in the UK). FTTP increased the most in the Czech Republic last year (from 17% to 35%).

As usual FTTP services are available mainly in urban areas (it’s expensive + slow to deploy and so urban deployments often make the most economic sense) with the exception of Latvia, Denmark, Luxembourg, Romania and Netherlands, where more than 25% of rural homes also have access to it. Overall FTTP now covers 24% of EU premises, which is up from just 10% in 2011.


The above is particularly important because the European Commission recently proposed a new non-binding Gigabit Society target for “all European households” to get a minimum Internet download speed of 100Mbps+ by 2025, with businesses and the public sector being told to expect 1Gbps+ (here).

The new strategy focuses a lot of its energy on promoting FTTP/B, although the 100Mbps+ aspect doesn’t strictly require such connectivity. For example, Virgin Media’s Cable network can already do 350Mbps+ today and they expect to reach around 65% of UK premises by 2019.

Similarly Openreach’s (BT) 160-300Mbps G.fast technology aims to reach 10 million premises by 2020 and 2 million more via FTTP, with “most of the UK” potentially being covered by 2025 (we still don’t know precisely what “most” will mean). Last week BT hinted that under the right conditions they might even be able to push FTTP out to 10 million lines (here), although this could possibly involve some trade off with the G.fast roll-out.

On top of that the smaller alternative network (altnet) providers (e.g. Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, B4RN and Cityfibre) have indicated that over the coming years they could potentially add a few million FTTP lines (not forgetting KCOM’s work in Hull), although this proposed aspiration has yet to be confirmed via concrete plans.

Finally, the progress report noted that the UK and two other member states (France and Romania) “fall short” of the original DAE 2020 goals because none have set a clear target for achieving 100% coverage of 30Mbps+ broadband.

The UK is officially only aiming for 95% coverage by the end of 2017 and that’s for the lesser speed of 24Mbps+, although we expect fixed line cover to hit 97% by 2020 (a 10Mbps USO will tackle the final 3%). So today’s progress might be good on the 30Mbps+ front but it’s disappointing that the UK Government still hasn’t adopted a 100% target and it’s 7-8 years since the DAE goals were first set.


Hopefully the UK isn’t this sluggish when it comes to considering the EC’s new Gigabit Society goals for 2025. Strictly speaking the UK, given Brexit, might simply choose to ignore the new targets and be less ambitious (lest we forget that the EC’s proposed goals are “non-binding connectivity targets“), but we hope that the Government will instead strive to keep us competitive and adapt their approach accordingly.

On the other hand at today’s progress we can’t see many EU member states achieving the new 2025 goals on time, but a lot can happen in 8 years.

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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