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INCA Sees UK Membership Boom on Full Fibre AltNet Surge

Wednesday, July 28th, 2021 (11:45 am) - Score 624
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The Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA), which represents alternative broadband networks (AltNet), has seen its UK membership balloon skywards after gaining 32 members in 2021 so far. The growth reflects a surge in new AltNets, many of which are building their own Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) infrastructure.

At present around 42% of homes and businesses across the UK can already access a gigabit-capable (1Gbps or 1000Mbps+) broadband ISP network, which is likely to reach over half of premises by the end of 2021 (c.60%) – thanks mostly to commercial FTTP deployments and DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades in urban areas.

Indeed, aside from major builds by established giants like Openreach (BT) and Virgin Media, INCA recently reported that alternative “full fibre” (FTTP/B) networks had grown their UK coverage by 110% in 2020 (up from 52% last year) and now cover 2.586 million premises (Summary of Full Fibre Build Process) – such providers now aspire to cover 29.9m by the end of 2025 (here), which will no doubt include a fair bit of overbuild.

The Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme also aims to support this by helping to expand coverage across the final 20% of predominantly rural premises. The project aims to ensure that such speeds reach at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 and aspires to get “as close to 100% as possible,” albeit depending upon how the industry responds (i.e. so far only £1.2bn has been released, but more should follow).

Suffice to say that INCA’s membership growth is no surprise. The new INCA members include the return of powerful industry stakeholder CityFibre, along with signing-ups by new entrant operators, major suppliers and local authorities. Some of the new operators include Freedom Fibre, Borderlink Broadband, Giganet, Spring Fibre, Save9, Toob and F&W Networks.

NOTE: A recent study from Point Topic suggested an estimated £12bn in funding had been “secured” by the independent sector in the period to 2025, but it’s unclear how much of this is in the form of hypothetical commitments.

Malcolm Corbett, CEO of INCA, said:

“As we welcome INCA’s new members, our unified presence in the industry reflects the overall strength of the independent sector. With the impressive funding achieved the altnets are well positioned to meet the Gigabit Britain challenge.

INCA is dedicated to representing the interests of the thriving independent sector and the new members affirm the confidence that the industry holds in our experience and insight. Virgin and Openreach have been the dominant forces in UK broadband, but it’s clear that together the altnets also wield substantial and growing influence. The influx of new members we have seen and the amount of funding the sector is receiving are good indicators of our collective strength.”

Independent operators are currently forecast to reach a total of over 6.6 million premises with full fibre broadband by the end of 2021, including an estimated 1.1 million live connections (customers). But a good chunk of that will include overbuild in areas with existing gigabit-capable rivals, especially around large urban areas.

The reality is that, in some areas, the local market may struggle to sustain so many operators building competing network infrastructure. We’ve long predicted that, a little further down the road, this may result in a period of consolidation among these players, as well as a few failures and success stories.

The good news is that consumers ultimately stand to benefit from a much wider choice of network infrastructure. But there may also be a period where that abundance of choice makes the market much more confusing for them to navigate.

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