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2018 H1 – UK Fixed Superfast Broadband Coverage Tips to 95.3%

Monday, July 9th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 1,040
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The latest independent model has estimated that the coverage of fixed “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) ISP networks across the United Kingdom has grown to 95.3% at the end of June 2018 (up from 95.1% in March 2018), while “full fibre” (FTTP/H) networks now reach 3.82% of premises.

Officially the first 76% of “superfast” network coverage was largely achieved by purely commercial roll-outs from Openreach (BT) and Virgin Media (plus some alternative network ISPs), while much of the final 25-30% has benefited from £1.6bn+ of public funding via the Broadband Delivery UK programme (matched by contributions from private operators) and other schemes.

The state aid fuelled BDUK programme currently predicts that a future combination of public funding reinvestment (i.e. clawback / gainshare from high take-up and efficiency savings in earlier BDUK deployments) and new contracts could push UK coverage of superfast speeds to “at least” 98% by around 2020 (here). As usual you have to order one of these new connections in order to benefit (not an automatic upgrade).

The expectation is that this will leave up to around 2% of premises to suffer slower sub-24Mbps connections and those are expected to be catered for via the Government’s 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO), which is currently still in the final design phase with Ofcom (details).

Separately the Government has also committed another c.£600 million+ to support future “full fibre” (FTTP/H) and related “ultrafast” (100Mbps+) broadband deployments (here and here), although that is more about helping to foster the rollout of new alternative networks (altnets) than expanding coverage deeper into poorly served rural areas.

Today a growing number of FTTP/H providers are making significant roll-out plans (details) and as such we expect to see a rapid increase in coverage over the next decade. Below you can see the latest modelling from Thinkbroadband to the start of July 2018 (H1) and as usual we’ve stripped out some of the more confusing aspects in order to make it easier to read and focus on the core changes.

Naturally we’re now seeing coverage growth slow significantly as the focus shifts onto the most challenging rural areas, which will make it a slow crawl to reach 98% over the next year or two.

Area % Superfast 24Mbps+ % Ultrafast 100Mbps+ % Full Fibre (FTTP/H) % Under 10Mbps USO
United Kingdom 95.3% 54% 3.82% 3.5%
England 95.8% 56.9% 4.14% 3.1%
London 97% 72.3% 7.18% 2.5%
Wales 94.6% 33.4% 4.81% 3.9%
Northern Ireland 87.6% 34.8% 1.61% 8.40%
Scotland 93.4% 44% 1.07% 5.40%

NOTE 1: Nearly all of the “ultrafast” (100Mbps+) coverage is coming from Virgin Media’s cable network, although Openreach, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, Cityfibre, TrueSpeed and others all have big “full fibre” (FTTP/H) expansion ambitions for related services (details). The rapid 330Mbps capable G.fast roll-out to 10 million UK premises by 2020 will also help.

NOTE 2: Recent BDUK contracts have adopted the EU and Ofcom’s higher download speed target of 30Mbps+ for “superfast” connectivity, which on average tends to trail around 0.2-0.4% points behind the 24Mbps+ figure (we don’t list it due to the limited difference).

NOTE 3: It’s very important to remember that Government / political targets like 95% or 98% reflect a national average, which can of course be better or worse for some regions (e.g. a few may achieve universal coverage, while others could be well below that).

Take note that each devolved region has its own policy and targets, which all feed into the central UK target. For example, Wales aspires to reach nearly “every property” with 30Mbps+ broadband by 2020 (here) and Scotland hopes to do something similar by 2021 (here).

Elsewhere Northern Ireland remains one of the weaker entries and they’re clearly struggling to deliver superfast speeds. A recent deal between the DUP and UK Government, which gifted £150 million to help N.I “provide ultra-fast broadband” to its population (here), may help to resolve that but they’ve been slow to sort out the details.

As stated earlier, this data is only an estimate and should be taken with a pinch of salt, not least because it won’t always reflect the real-world. This is particularly true where issues like faulty lines, poor home wiring, slow WiFi, network congestion, full street cabinets and other problems can result in much slower speeds or worse availability than expected. But it’s still one of the best gauges that we have for checking against official claims (official figures tend to be c.1% higher than TBB’s data).

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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.
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18 Responses
  1. Techman

    The suggestion that BDUK will push coverage up to 98% seems like total BS to me. My local authority Derbyshire appears to have pretty much closed shop. The website hasnt been updated in over a year, they dont respond to facebook, twitter or emails. There is no mention of any coverage beyond 95% or anything beyond 2018. I cant see us ever being upgraded beyond the 12/1 fttc we have now. Reading about fttp and g fast and extended coverage elsewhere is extremely depressing.

    • As the above article says, “It’s very important to remember that Government / political targets like 95% or 98% reflect a national average, which can of course be better or worse for some regions (e.g. a few may achieve universal coverage, while others could be well below that).”

      Sadly Derbyshire are one of several BDUK projects that haven’t made any real future plans or updates on their progress for awhile, although it will be receiving some funding for reinvestment via clawback and possibly also efficiency savings, which they’ll need to reinvest to further expand coverage at some point.

    • Techman

      Do they have to reinvest though? Is there a legal obligation or is it just at their discretion? The fact they appear to have given up doesnt fill me with much hope

    • They can either reinvest it locally to improve coverage or the gainshare from BDUK will be returned back to the Government, potentially for use elsewhere. Since the latter would be very wasteful for the council then they’re bound to use it but it’s a question of ‘when’.

      The contracts can run for up to 7 years and some councils may wait until that completes, which will give them more flexibility over the reinvestment and more certainty over how much money they’ll get back. The phase 1 contracts have been running since around 2013/14.

    • Just an FYI – On the council’s website it does state this:

      https://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/business/community-broadband/digital-derbyshire.aspx

      “By building on the commercial coverage already provided, we’re aiming for 98% of homes and businesses in Derbyshire to be able to access speeds of at least 24Mbps by the end of 2018.”

      Currently the project is at about 95% so it will be difficult but not impossible to reach 98% by the end of 2018. We shall see.

      Back in April 2018 I also found that a meeting of the full council set 2020 as the date for ensuring that the whole county could access broadband, but annoying they don’t say what type or speed of broadband:

      https://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/site-elements/documents/pdf/council/meetings-decisions/meetings/full-council/2018-04-11-council-plan-2018-19-update.pdf

    • NGA for all

      Techman, it worth a query as the budget is available to do a lot of FTTP in-fill. They have done not much more than 500 cabinets. On that basis BT has had little opportunity to invest their share of the gap funding – sometimes called savings.

      It is worth a chase, as BT Q4 statements included for the first time a record of monies being returned to LA. It was either £2m or £4m. The plan was to re-cyle and keep going.

    • Techman

      Indeed NGA it is worth a chase which I have done but like I say they appear to have given up. They dont respond whatsoever to any form of correspondance.

      Also, thanks for the info Mark.

    • New_Londoner

      @MarkJ
      “They can either reinvest it locally to improve coverage or the gainshare from BDUK will be returned back to the Government, potentially for use elsewhere”

      IIRC either it can be reinvested with Openreach during the lifetime of the contract (7 years after completion of build?), but with limits around how it can be spent etc, or returned at the end of the contract into the local authority’s general funds.

      Despite what NGA for all suggests repeatedly, I don’t believe that Openreach has any ability to spend up to the total available budget without agreement of either the local authority nor BDUK, nor can it set aside the bounds of the contract and do something entirely different because the money is there. As a tax payer I’m pleased this is the case as the public sector mentality of spending to the budget does not usually deliver value for money.

    • Gadget

      Without an un-redacted contract its can never be 100% certain but it appears 1) The OJEU notice and state-aid approval is for a specific number of named postcodes or premises for an “up-to” amount of money, 2)If it costs more for the successful bidder that’s tough, if it costs less they can only claim the allowable build expenses. 2) Gainshare operates on the postcodes/premises delivered and, I believe contractually, is evaluated at the end of the contract period (not the build period). 3) There has been well-documented instances where gainshare has been made available earlier and used to extend the contract as the money relates to build. 4) I am not sure if this also is allowable for underspend. The big cautionary point for any successful bid winner is the fact that any complaint, for any part of the contract from notification, through procurement to delivery can render the state-aid invalid if upheld, and the monies repaid from the successful tenderer regardless of fault. So you can imagine that any deviation from x premises/postcodes for up to £y will be carefully checked against State-aid rules.

    • Guy Cashmore

      Similar here in West Devon, only 81% superfast coverage (Thinkbroadband data) and the figure is unchanged in many months, nothing is being built or done despite them having almost £200m available to spend here. The BDUK operative is Connecting Devon & Somerset, they also don’t respond to email and haven’t updated social media in over a year. Quite how the USO operatives will respond when they find almost 20% are eligible remains to be seen!

    • NGA for all

      Original programme objectives and budgets and intent was ‘all your can do with funds available. That is still evident in the number of counties with 100% coverage targets.

      The notion of giving up is arising from impact of two sets of bonuses, BT and BDUK.

      The BT MD’s and relationship directors were expected to drive free cash flow and withold BT capital, hence the underspends and resourced constrained rollout with lots of gaps. The BDUK VFM effort (which is very good) has dealt with this but you would need a huge amount of change requests.

      The second problem might have arisen with Chris Townsend package. If any bonus of his was set around 90-95% coverage, then you can understand why he might have agreed a side letter with the EU limiting the re-use of clawback without further iterative competitions to £130m. This side letter would have the effect of BT now holding a further £400m money until 2023 while Chris collected any bonus before he moved to Chelsea FC. This is an opinion but why agree to lock monies intended for sparse infill into a process where iterative cycles of procurement prove impractical.

      BT gaming of costs is the principle contributer to the slow rollout, but Chris Townsend in getting the state aid approved looks to have agreed a side letter with the EU which has the effect of tying monies down that could be re-cycled earlier than the contract states. I think the side letter if published could and should be challenged.

    • Gadget

      @NGA The fundamental point I was trying to get over was that regardless of intent, wish or desire the contract and state-aid agreement is driven by the OJEU notification which is x named premises/postcodes for up to £y

      That is the contract, and deviation from x or y potentially invalidates state-aid approval. Claw-back is return of money within the contract that has already been paid out, as opposed to savings where no money has been paid. Increased coverage using claw-back ahead of the required contractual return is a tested mechanism which is available to all contracts, but AFAIK only been taken up by some.

    • NGA for all

      Gadget, The original state aid notification referenced final third and phase 1 OjEU referenced all premises and contract then stated XX% of these. So then you re-notify what you did not do, and repeat and repeat. There is room to deal with this nonsense. Change request for anything less than 3,000 contiguous premises. BDUK are on top of the costs, but we need more on BT’s capital – especially important for FTTP.
      IN the latest BT Q4 statement which is the only record we have, the Capital Deferral section referenced returned funds for the first time. It may not all be ‘clawback’. Capital Deferral is a flexible object, you can ‘underspends’ owed if you need too.
      This is why LA need to publish their ‘true ups’ and monies held and owed.
      You would hope the prospect of B-USO fund will force the issue, as public monies allocated for Broadband should not now be replaced with funds paid by industry.
      and oh BT do need fully productise Fibre on Demand to take a customer distance related connection charge

  2. NGA for all

    2.5% of London (Greater) under 10mbps looks a bit wrong. 2.5% of 4.4m properties is 110k properties. It should be stated as <1%.

    It would better to state the remaining problem as a function of Openreach system size c26m lines, apart from Hull. At least it could outlined alongside the bigger number.

    • Andrew Ferguson

      Nothing wrong with what Mark posted, as the 2.5% is the USO i.e. under 10 Mbps with the 1 Mbps upload proviso.

      The sub 10 Mbps download is under 1 Mbps as you can see at https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/london

      As for the remaining problem, why would anyone use the 26 million Openreach figure, which is clearly wrong, as we know of millions more premises and if you went by 26m Openreach could say they’ve delivered 106% superfast coverage.

      If you want pure Openreach figures, then they are on the labs site.

    • NGA for all

      Andrew – thanks, If 2.5% is numerically ok and we extract the same for Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow etc, then the primary purpose of the B-UsO is to manage an investment failure in urban areas.

      You would use or reference OR system size as they are likely to primary B-USO holder and the problem practically would be a function of that number.

      OR would need to report what proportion of their operational system system can or cannot get >24Mbps, or >30Mbps. Cabinets have limits so it cannot be 106%.

    • Andrew Ferguson

      I think you missed the point Openreach system size of 26m is wrong plan and simple

      As for extracting same it is staring you in the face on https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local if bother to look. No need for poncy function of number talk and all the other guff you enjoy

    • Gadget

      I would suspect any discussion about the B-USO would focus on the total number of premises in the UK rather than any size covered by a single provided.

      As the name suggests “Universal” means all premises, and understanding that rules out provider coverage (regardless of if they are the custodian of the B-USO or not), provider line count (as per coverage but also includes multiple lines to a premises).

      That suggests a completely different counting system based on something like Post-Office codepoints (version that includes domestic and non-domestic delivery points) or Ordnance Survey Addressbase, or Census output areas. Reading the explanation on the Thinkbroadband site it is the post-office data that they use.

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