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UK Creeps Up 2020 FTTH Ultrafast Broadband Country Ranking

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020 (1:00 pm) - Score 4,092
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The FTTH Council Europe has today published their annual 2020 ranking, which lists the countries with the strongest subscriber penetration of “full fibre” (FTTP/H/B) ultrafast broadband ISP networks. The good news is that the United Kingdom continues to claw its way up and is no longer at the very bottom.

Just to recap. Last year’s ranking was in fact the first official one in which the UK even appeared, albeit right at the very bottom. Since then the rate of build has continued to strengthen and at the end of 2019 we reported that some 11% of UK premises were within reach of a Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based network (here), which is roughly double where we stood a year earlier.

NOTE: This year’s ranking is largely based on data from before the Coronavirus crisis.

Much of this improvement has been fostered over the past 3 years by the Government’s increasing support for “gigabit-capable” networks, such as via their business rates holiday on new fibre, connection vouchers, various other funding schemes (here) and regulatory changes via Ofcom to help support investment (here). A further £5bn has also been pledged to help bring gigabit services to every home by the end of 2025 (here).

We’ve also seen a significant increase in competition between “full fibre” ISPs over that same period (Cityfibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, Community Fibre, G.Network etc.), which has helped to drive the market forward at a pace never before seen in the UK (2020 Summary of UK Full Fibre Builds). At present most of these are commercial deployments in urban areas, while the Government’s future £5bn will boost rural builds.

Suffice to say that the ever increasing deployment pace of full fibre has helped to pull the United Kingdom up from the bottom of the council’s ranking table, which reports that we now have a market penetration rate of 2.8% (up from 1.3% last year) and a take-up rate of 18.2% (up from 13.1% last year).

Oddly though they also state that the UK had FTTP/B coverage of 15.1% in September 2019, which is well above Ofcom’s own figures and thus seems incorrect for that particular period (it’s possible they may not be factoring overbuild correctly or have included areas that were built, but not yet live for customers).

ftth european country ranking 2020 uk

As a result of the rapid roll-out we’ve now leapfrogged over both Serbia and Austria, although there’s clearly still a VERY long way left to go. Nevertheless it’s easy to see why we’ve able to make some real progress, which is largely due to the recorded growth rate of 50.8% (+1.4 million extra premises) in the last year.

Germany, which has a similar infrastructure setup to the UK, and Croatia now look like two potential targets for the UK to leapfrog in next year’s ranking. Admittedly though that will very much depend upon the impact of the COVID-19 crisis upon build rates.

ftth european country ranking 2020 annual growth

We also do reasonably when when looking at a smaller selection of countries and using the number of total subscribers.

ftth european country ranking 2020 subscribers

Overall the total number of homes passed with Fibre to the Home (FTTH/B) style broadband ISP networks in the EU39 reached nearly 172 million, compared to 160 million in 2018, with now 19 countries counting more than 2 million homes passed each.

The main movers in terms of homes passed in absolute numbers are France (+3.5 million), Italy (+1.9m) and Spain (+1.5m). The top 5 of the annual growth rates in terms of homes passed is headed by Belgium (+307%), Ireland (+70.4%), Switzerland (+69.1%), the United Kingdom (+50.8%) and Germany (33.5%).

Interestingly alternative network (altnet) ISPs (e.g. Cityfibre, Hyperoptic etc.) are still constituting the largest part of FTTH/B players, with a contribution of around 56% of the total fibre expansion, while 41% of homes are passed by former incumbent operators.

Erzsébet Fitori, Director General of the FTTH Council Europe, said:

“Uubiquitous and reliable digital infrastructure has never played such a crucial role as today connecting families, enabling business activities and working from home. Very high capacity connectivity is not only mission critical in times of crisis but will also be fundamental for economic recovery and the transition towards a sustainable, green EU economy.

Competitive investments in very high capacity networks should, therefore, remain a high political priority and we look forward to working with the EU institutions, national governments and NRAs towards removing bureaucratic and other barriers from the way of network deployment. Access to very high capacity networks faster and more cost efficiently benefits everyone!”

Much as we said last year, 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 [VDSL2] / G.fast and HFC 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 in some areas as an alternative broadband product, but that has yet to be proven.

On top of that it’s worth noting that the Government’s new 2025 target for “gigabit-capable broadband” is no longer prescribing “full fibre” as the only solution, which means that it can also be achieved via other technologies like Hybrid Fibre Coax based DOCSIS (cable networks) and fixed wireless connectivity (e.g. 5G). As such there is no longer any clarity as to when the UK might achieve universal coverage of FTTP, if ever.

Despite the above change, we’re still advised that full fibre remains the Government’s primary technology of choice, even though other methods may now be used to help achieve the latest coverage ambition. But for now the pace of new FTTP going into the ground remains rapid, although once again we suspect that the COVID-19 crisis might temporarily slow this growth during 2020 (mostly due to staff/engineering shortages).

Otherwise it’s worth highlighting 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 many other countries see a significantly larger proportion of people living in big apartment blocks (e.g. Spain, Portugal), which are a lot cheaper to reach.

On the whole it’s good to see the UK making progress, although there’s no escaping the fact that our late arrival still means that many other countries will have reached the finish line long before we’ve even got to the halfway point.

Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Avatar Stuart says:

    FTTH is all very well and good but there are very few nationwide ISPs in the UK who offer it to the home user at a reasonable price. Price comparison sites in the UK do not account for it either, they usually offer traditional FTTC which FTTH-only homes cannot get.

    1. Avatar CarlT says:

      Best stay on copper then. How rude of companies spending billions putting fibre into the ground to charge more than TalkTalk-alike prices.

    2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      @Stuart. You’re on a comparison site that accounts for FTTH from multiple providers and networks, as well as G.fast and DOCSIS.

      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/isp_list/ISP_List_Ultrafast_Broadband.php

  2. Avatar Stuart says:

    @Mark. I hadn’t seen that page before, thank you 🙂

  3. Avatar sebbb says:

    It’s still ridiculous that in London there are places like SE16 or blocks of flats in Wandsworth that have only ADSL, while in Milan I had 100/50 FTTH in 2010 for 35€ a month and now my friend has 1000/300 for 27€…

    1. Avatar A_Builder says:

      In all fairness most MDU’s (blocks of flats) in Wandsworth now have either Community Fibre (full FTTP) or Hyperoptic (FTTB and then Cat6e).

      Both of these offer cheap 1G resi packages and good value business ones too.

      I have offices with both of these offerings and they work just fine.

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