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Fixed Line UK Broadband ISP Subscriber Growth is in a Slowdown

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 691
united kingdom broadband connectivity

A new study of broadband ISP growth has confirmed the unsurprising news that the UK is in a slowdown. The market is now home to a total of 26,265,000 lines but only 203800 were added in Q4 2017, which compares with 241900 in Q4 2016, 255200 in Q4 2015 and 339400 three years ago.

In fairness the data, which stems from Point Topic, will not come as a surprise to readers of ISPreview.co.uk because we’ve long been covering the change as part of our various quarterly and biannual news updates from the major fixed line broadband ISPs (BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky Broadband etc.).

fixed broadband ISP line growth uk 2012 to 2018

At this point only Vodafone seems to be bucking the trend (proportional growth) but that’s largely because they only re-entered the big boys market a few short years ago and are also one of the cheapest providers around, which tends to attract a lot of interest from budget conscious consumers (see our Top 10 Broadband page and Subscriber Growth Log).

PointTopic Statement

Nevertheless, household penetration of broadband continues to creep up, standing at 85.4 per cent at the end of December 2017, a rise from 84.9 per cent the previous quarter and 82.9 per cent year-on-year.

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology continues its downward spiral with just over 11.5 million active lines at the end of 2017. In something of a milestone, the number of DSL lines wholesaled by Openreach has dropped below one million for the first time.

Active cable modem lines stood at nearly 5.11 million at the end of December 2017, up from just over 4.92 million a year ago.

FTTx technology, including fibre-to-the-cabinet [FTTC], fibre-to-the-building [FTTB] and fibre-to-the-premises [FTTP/H], continues its advance across the UK with an increase of nearly 7.2 per cent during October to end-December 2017, bringing total fibre-based lines to just above an estimated 9,492,000.

The research notes that 14,464,000 of the 26.3m total lines are estimated to reflect “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) connections, which is again very roughly in keeping with the data that we track from ISPs and Ofcom (see our Broadband Technology page). We believe that Point Topic are also able to include several hundred thousand additional connections from smaller ISPs and they’re using more current data than the regulator.

Why the fall?

Point Topic’s analysis does not examine the reasons for this decline, although historically it tends to reflect the impact from several different aspects of the market. For example, in the past we’ve always seen periods of slow growth or even stagnation, which usually occurs as one generation of technology sees its coverage mature and then a new one starts to surface (e.g. the move from ADSL to FTTx).

The UK coverage of superfast broadband networks has also reached a strong mass market level of 95% (estimated) and the next jump to 98% of premises by 2020 may reflect a much smaller number of homes and businesses, which will be added over a proportionally longer period of time than before (i.e. the rollout slows down as it reaches rural areas and related state aid support schemes come to an end).

In keeping with that most of those who wanted broadband have now got it, although there will be some growth so long as the overall number of new homes and families continue to increase. Last year the Office for National Statistics similarly revealed that 9% (4.8 million) of UK adults have NEVER used the Internet and that’s down from 10.2% (5.3 million) in 2016 (i.e. this mostly reflects the elderly and those with a disability).

Suffice to say that the broadband market is reaching a much more mature state and in the future ISPs will increasingly see the greatest impact from migrations and upgrades, instead of first time connections from customers who have never previously had a broadband connection. In fact if 5G turns out to be a true competitor for home broadband then we might even see a decline in fixed line, but it’s far too early to speculate.

However one question mark in all this is the government’s proposed 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO), which is largely intended to focus on improving connectivity (on request) for those in the final 2% of digitally disadvantaged properties. The gov’s rejection of BT’s voluntary offer means that we still don’t know quite what kind of approach to infrastructure and funding will be taken (this could impact growth).

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. Archie

    There would be more of an uptake if the services actually existed out there. I’d pay a decent amount for a good service but it’s just nonexistent.

  2. asrab uddin

    People are now bored with FTTC they want the next generation FTTP

  3. occasionally factual

    Not a shock as the number of people who have broadband (of any type) is now approaching saturation point. 26m lines is a lot of premises.
    Growth in outright subscriptions will come mainly from new built properties and some of the 2% USO areas (although many of them will have broadband already, just not a very quick one)
    Now the market is either in getting people to upgrade in order to generate growth or getting customers from other providers by price cuts.

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