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Alternative UK Fibre ISPs Support Common Wholesale Platform Idea

Wednesday, Sep 16th, 2020 (11:25 am) - Score 2,547
fibre optic lines meet uk network cables

Research from the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA) has claimed that 88.7% of the UK’s challenger alternative broadband network (AltNet) providers would support the creation of a common platform, through which they could provide wholesale services to third-party providers.

Earlier this year INCA and Point Topic estimated that 15.73 million premises could be reached via alternative “full fibre” (FTTP) networks by the end of 2025 (here), although this was based more on future roll-out aspirations and so should be taken with a pinch of salt (interestingly today’s report uses a lower figure of 11 million). Likewise, we don’t yet know how much overbuild between networks will impact the overall level of UK coverage.

NOTE: Ofcom recently reported that FTTP networks now cover 14% of UK premises (4.2 million), which rises to 57% if you only look at “ultrafast” (300Mbps+) capable networks (the latter is mostly due to Virgin Media).

One problem with having so many AltNet ISPs (Summary of Full Fibre Build Progress) is that it makes the market more confusing for consumers, which is something that INCA’s new suggestion might improve. The creation of a Common Wholesale Platform (CWP) would, they say, enable altnets to attract ISPs to their networks by “aggregating the large volume of customers they could potentially reach.”

INCA is thus now supporting the development of a CWP, which would enable groups of independent wholesale network providers to “combine together and offer a real competitive alternative to the limited number of large players which currently dominate the market.” The aim is to make it as simple as possible for ISPs to deliver their services over challenger networks, thus helping to foster credible competition and consumer choice.

Malcolm Corbett, INCA CEO, said:

“For some time, it has been presumed that challenger independent providers do not have the scale to attract major brands like TalkTalk and Sky Broadband. However, that is changing rapidly and our research shows that the operators are keen to work together on a wholesale platform that can bridge the gap in the market.”

INCA’s survey also revealed that only 43% of the independent broadband sector is aware of the date when changes come into force governing how consumers switch between broadband providers. Ofcom are expected to lay out the timetable in September 2020 for a new Gaining Provider Led (GPL) switching process, which will simplify the way that consumers can switch services and include alternative networks (although it’ll be awhile before this is actually implemented).

The survey itself was carried out this summer 2020 as a response to a call from Ofcom to have greater visibility of the industry’s view on establishing a CWP, although what form that will take remains to be seen. Bringing together so many rivals in order to establish a common platform tends to be like trying to herd cats due to all of the different models, network types and investment strategies involved, but being able to confirm that an interest does exist is an important first step.

We should point out that different forms of aggregated wholesale platform have been tried before, such as via FluidOne’s Service Exchange Platform (SEP), although this didn’t really touch the consumer side of that equation (at least not in quite the same way that INCA seem to be envisaging). As ever with these things, everything will depend upon the detail. In theory you could even bring fixed wireless networks and other platforms into the fold.

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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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12 Responses
  1. Avatar photo 5G_Infinity says:

    VXFiber are a wholesale, open access fibre provider. Their network in Stoke, allows for nearly 30 to 40 ISPs day one to provide service to newly connected FTTP customers on their 1Gbps service. It uses VXFiber’s own platform – https://www.vx.se/open-access-model/

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The problem is that lots of ISPs have similar open wholesale platforms, which makes the market more confusing. INCA is talking about a common platform that multiple altnets could offer / share.

    2. Avatar photo CarlT says:


      How many of the c. 30 million premises in the UK are passed by VX Fiber?

    3. Avatar photo Artrez says:

      30-40 ISP’s? I find that hard to believe. Have you got a list we can view?

  2. Avatar photo Olly says:

    This is harder than it looks. The devil is in aligning the operational processes (availability, fulfilment, assurance) between all the access providers so the retail ISP doesn’t see or have to cope with any differences.

  3. Avatar photo John Nolan says:

    We are on the road to the NAN model

  4. Avatar photo zzing123 says:

    About time something like this happened. Many are hesitant of using any ISP with a locked-in connectivity model, even with Virgin.

    But it still doesn’t go far enough – households should be able to install their own point-to-point fibre and have ISP’s use it on a proxy shareholder basis. That is ‘ownership’ is owned by the premises, but the ISP takes control of the effective shareholding on the operation of the line so their market share is directly linked to the effective shareholding of the common platform.

  5. Avatar photo A_Builder says:

    I love the 88.7%!!!!

    Is this based on market share or is it just odd fractional maths!!?

    1. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      Out of 53 respondents, 47 agreed?

  6. Avatar photo Andrius Stikonas says:

    Who thought that using GPL abbreviation for “Gaining Provider Led” is a good idea…

  7. Avatar photo Piers says:

    I have been pushing this point for many years and as Mark says my previous business even won a Queens Award for our work on an exchange platform. It wasn’t however for business it was for consumer ISPs but obviously our involvement was B2B with supplier and ISP.

    The issue was that the likes of SKY, TalkTalk, Virgin etc will need to spend many millions on APIs, support and provisioning services to onboard a supplier. So one that only reaches a certain number of homes does not make sense, hence if you can aggregate access that is transformational. But as mentioned above in the comments people build their networks very differently and have many different provisioning processes let alone APIs to work with. So it is a complex task and one after 10 years of battling I couldn’t achieve. I suspect it will only really come with acquisitions in the short to medium term.

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