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UK Finally Joins 2019 FTTH Ultrafast Broadband Country Ranking

Thursday, March 14th, 2019 (8:30 am) - Score 6,430
blue fibre optic cable expansion

After years of waiting we’re pleased to report that the United Kingdom has finally been included into the FTTH Council Europe‘s annual 2019 country ranking, which lists the countries with the strongest subscriber penetration of “full fibre” (FTTP/H/B) ultrafast broadband ISP networks. Predictably.. we’re at the bottom.

The most recent data from Ofcom (here) states that “full fibre” networks now cover just 6% of UK premises and, while still low, that figure is double what it was a year ago (3%). Much of this improvement has come from the Government’s increasing support for such networks, such as via their business rates holiday on new fibre, as well as Gigabit connection vouchers, various funding schemes and regulatory changes via Ofcom (summary).

As a result we’ve seen a rise in competition between Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) ISPs during 2018 (Cityfibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, Community Fibre etc.), which are almost jumping over each other to see who can roll-out the most fibre optic lines (Summary of UK Full Fibre Plans). Many of those are commercial roll-outs that only really began at any scale last year and for the time being most are only focused on urban areas.

Meanwhile the Government has set an aspiration for “nationwide” coverage of full fibre networks to be achieved by 2033 (here), although this would require the market to be adding around 2 million premises (not overbuild) to the national coverage every year for the next decade or more. Deployments are ramping up but we’re nowhere near this.. yet.

Suffice to say that last year’s progress was enough to finally see us enter into the council and IDATE’s annual ranking, which crucially looks at household penetration rather than raw network coverage. Unsurprisingly we enter the table at quite a low position, but it’s a start.

The United Kingdom enters the ranking with a penetration rate of 1.3% and a take-up rate of 13.1%. Related subscriptions grew by 83% compared to September 2017 (total of 369,250 subscribers) and its homes passed grew by 22.8% (total of 2,817,000 homes passed). The latter figure seems to be more optimistic than Ofcom’s most recent data.

ftth european country ranking 2019 uk

Overall the number of Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) and Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) subscribers in Europe (EU39 countries) increased by 15.7% since September 2017 with more than 59.6 million FTTH/B subscribers in September 2018. Russia is still the leader in terms of FTTH/B subscribers in the European region, although it has showed a lower growth rate compared to other European countries which are catching up quickly with a 21% growth.

The deployment of FTTH/B networks has also increased significantly. By September 2018 it is estimated that the coverage of such networks had reached 46.4% in the EU39 and 36.4% in EU28 countries. “This shows a clear upward trend from September 2015 where the estimated coverage rate in the region was 39% in the EU39 and 27,2% in the EU28,” said the council.

This year the country adding the most subscribers was Spain (1,858,743), while France comes second with an addition of 1,480,220 and Russia saw its FTTH/B subscriber base increase with 1,256,000 new additions. As for take-up of the service, it’s jumped to 37.4% for the EU39 (up from 34.8% last year) and take-up in the EU28 is even higher at 38.2%. Countries like Andorra, Belarus, Belgium, Latvia, Netherlands and Romania experience a take-up rate surpassing 50%.

Ronan Kelly, President of the FTTH Council, said:

“These new figures show a momentum that is accelerating over the last few years. Full fibre is the way forward and the results of the Market Panorama provide compelling evidence of this. Fibre expansion is booming in many countries and today more consumers are aware of the benefits of fibre.

Our job is not done, however, there is still a long way to go until every citizen and business has access to the benefits of full fibre in Europe.”

Obviously it’s still early days for the UK and for the time being most of our fixed broadband connections will continue to be dominated by cheaper and often slower hybrid fibre solutions (e.g. FTTC VDSL / G.fast and Cable DOCSIS), probably for quite a few years to come. Plus there’s always the chance that 5G could throw a spanner into the works by undercutting FTTP as an alternative broadband product.

Otherwise it’s worth considering that country-to-county comparisons never tell the whole story. For example, some countries have funded the deployment of fibre almost entirely from public money, while offering very little in the way of competition (e.g. consumer choice of ISPs). Meanwhile other countries may see a significantly larger proportion of people living in big apartment blocks (e.g. Spain, Portugal), which are a lot cheaper to reach.

The thing to watch in future years is our rate of growth and whether or not we start skipping ahead of other countries, which at the current pace is a distinct possibility but it’s still a long ladder left to climb. Many other countries will have reached the finish line long before we’ve even got to the halfway point.

On the other hand today’s report includes a market forecast based on an individual analysis of 15 countries. The forecast finds that while Russia is expected to continue leading the ranking for FTTH/B homes passed in 2020 and 2025, they also say it is “very interesting to note that the UK is likely to catch up to become 2nd in the ranking in 2025, ahead of France and Spain.” In our view this seems very unlikely to happen by 2025.

UPDATE 8:58am (GMT)

Another useful slide from this morning’s event, which shows how fast the UK is growing vs others.

ftth fttb homes passed 2019

We also have a future forecast to reflect that 2025 prediction above, which looks wildly optimistic for the UK (particularly since the Government only expects 15 million premises by 2025 and that’s more realistic).

ftth fttb homes passed forecast 2019 to 2025

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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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22 Responses
  1. Avatar chris conder

    We could be world leaders but for bt sweating their copper assets. But at least now there is some competition with altnets things should move on. I hope we can catch up.

    • Avatar SimonR

      Makes for interesting reading…

      https://www.techradar.com/uk/news/world-of-tech/how-the-uk-lost-the-broadband-race-in-1990-1224784

      Whatever your political leanings are, if the article is true and complete things could have been a lot different by now.

    • Avatar Mike

      ^ The sole reason I dislike Thatcher.

    • Avatar CarlT

      You’re aware BT have no choice but to continue doing that as Ofcom won’t allow them to retire copper, right?

      If you look at things in the round an awful lot of factors where the blame is laid at BT’s feet stem from Ofcom’s regulation. It’s no accident that Spain, a place where the incumbent have been allowed to retire copper and were permitted to keep FTTP to themselves for a time rather than being forced to resell everything equivalently, is in third.

    • Avatar GNewton

      While the techradar article makes for an interesting read it’s not the whole story. No one has prevented BT from installing fibre for more than a decade now. The regulatory environment for telecoms may not be ideal, but a lot of the fibre-broadband fiasco in this country is because of BTs incompetence, including its lack of a longterm vision and business strategy. This will hurt both the BT shareholders as well as this country.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Blame Ofcom they are the regulator who hobble BT.

      Any other telcos without the same level of meddling could have been rolling out fibre for years.

      But we don’t want to discuss that….

  2. Avatar Graham Long

    It’s easy to top league tables for 2020 and 2025 “forecasts”. Only actual deliverables matter and whilst it’s better than previous years when the UK didn’t even appear, UK government incompetence has ensured the UK is bottom of the pack. Anyone willing to bet on the forecasts?….. I doubt it.

  3. Avatar gerarda

    The forecasts are for homes “passed”. As we know from past experience the telecom’s industry takes to heart Humpty Dumpty’s maxim “When I use a word,it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

    • Avatar CarlT

      Well, you may from your experience. Mine of actually working in the field most of my working life is somewhat different. If you claim to pass a premises you have network running outside – you’ll note CityFibre in their inflated numbers where they have fibre rings specifically don’t describe premises as ‘passed’

    • Avatar gerarda

      Passed was used by BT if a line was connected to an FTTC enabled cabinet regardless of distance and ability to get a service.

      In a similar way available was used if a line was connected to an exchange enabled for ADSL even if the line could not get broadband.

      If you really that passed in this article means able to get a service how do you explain a figure that is much higher than Thinkbroadband’s?

    • Avatar CarlT

      This is why there’re premises passed and premises serviceable. Both are perfectly standard definitions. Definition of passed in first link, distinction drawn in second.

      https://www.exfo.com/en/resources/glossary/home-passed/

      http://www.itnews.com.au/news/nbn-co-passes-207500-premises-with-fibre-348995

    • Avatar CarlT

      You may disagree with the use of the words but they are standard definitions.

      I drop fibre into an MDU my network passes the homes and businesses inside. I connect up the units they become serviceable.

      A home is connected to a VDSL cabinet it is passed by it. As long as it is not too far away it’s also serviceable.

      Hope that explains the distinction.

    • Avatar gerarda

      Your last sentence is crucial but unfortunately rarely taken into account when the spin departments get hold of the numbers

  4. Avatar Moses Jonson

    Unbelievable, BT should be ashamed of themselves, how is it that virgin media and altnets are leading the way in the British internet industry in terms of fibre internet.

    • Avatar BT Openreach should be ashamed

      BT Openreach and their cronies on here only care about money. They don’t care about the customers, doing the right thing for the greater good, or for the long term good of their company. They sweat assets (copper) like a fat businessman in a sauna.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      Yes there have been bad BT decisions in the past and changing to FTTP has come far too late but OR are probably already outstripping others in weekly numbers and will be increasing capacity further. It is a big job and the more FTTP providers the better. BT may be making the most of their copper but it generates the revenues they need for more FTTP and BT as a whole is still in transition to a position where they will have a much reduced market share. We knew in the 80s that the copper/ali network was only suitable for what it was designed for but currently its the only thing holding up the UK broadband currently.

      VM are also sweating their coax (the Telewest cabling round here was laid in 1994). Wouldn’t any company?.

      Full Fibre provides all the reliability, speed and performance we need. We just need to get it rolled out asap. Unfortunately it will be many years.

      There are some Altnets that you can attribute social intention but many of the new ones, backed by large investment funds, will probably prove to be no more benevolent than any other commercial company.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Moses you do realise that BT has deployed more FTTP than anyone else right?

  5. Avatar A_Builder

    Well we can all mourn the past but the present and the future are what matter.

    And finally OR has woken up to Fibre first.

    I won’t deny that it is frustrating, as a BT shareholder, that a perfectly affordable roll rate of FTTP of say 500k per year had not been in place for the last 10 years. This could easily have been paid for.

    But we are where we are and at least things are moving forwards to a bette connected future.

    • Avatar Focusisfibre

      The sentiment is sound but 500k a year is simply pocket change – This would buy you if lucky about 2500/3000 premises a year in an city location when there is 30m+ homes to reach. Commercial investment will need to be in the 10 of millions per year for a decade to progress, so huge investment which is why market conditions for all needs to be made as easy as possible. I think BT should sweat assets whilst waiting for a return of investment which is 20+ years in making ! I’ have seen first hand how difficult the build in rural is also , it’s going to 10/15 times the cost per prem, which is why govt support and funding is key to bridge gaps. Exciting times but only way is up now.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @Focusisfibre: I think A_Builder meant 500 000 premises passed per year. And I agree with him. BT could have easily done it even if hadn’t been for its short-sightedness throughout those past years, to the detriment of its share-holders and its customers.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      They’ve spent the last 10yrs bring Fibre closer to homes and increasing speeds quickly and cheapely compared to FTTP.

      Sounds like a good model to me, same as what other telcos have done around the world.

      It’s easy for armchair telcos to go on about what they would do tho.

  6. Avatar Gary HILTON

    We already see how well ‘competition’ works for a solid national roll out of fttp, squabbles and overbuild drawn out contracting/bidding wars and delay. While some countries may have a monopoly telco and people seem to see that as a bad thing, I’m pretty sure there are a large number of people who care less about a choice of provider than not having the choice of any provider at all for possibly another decade.

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