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2023 Full Fibre Country Ranking Sees UK Coverage Accelerate vs EU39

Wednesday, Apr 19th, 2023 (2:00 pm) - Score 4,696
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The FTTH Council Europe has today released their 2023 ranking of the European countries with the strongest take-up and annual growth of gigabit-capable “full fibre” (FTTP/H/B) broadband ISP networks. Once again, the United Kingdom continues to see exceptional growth (42% in homes passed) over the past year.

Admittedly, it’s still a slow climb for the UK to catch up with countries that have been building FTTP/B at scale for many years longer. Until fours years ago, the UK didn’t even appear in the council’s ranking, but the massive and predominantly commercial rollout of Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) networks has rapidly changed all that (Summary of Full Fibre Builds).

NOTE: The UK has now passed the 50% full fibre coverage mark (here), but the council’s report gives a lower figure of 42% as it’s based on older data (September 2022).

Just for context. Back in 2021 the UK had an annual FTTP growth rate (homes passed) of 1.7 Million extra premises, rising to 3.4 Million added in 2022 and in this year’s report we’ve hit 51% (+4.2 Million) – we suspect that this may be somewhat of a peak and future years won’t change as much. The other fastest growing countries of the year in Europe (EU39) were France (+3.5 M), Turkey (+2.9 M), and Italy (+2.1 M).

Much of this progress has been fostered by the Government’s increased support for “gigabit-capable” networks, such as via their connection voucher schemes, various other funding programmes (here) and regulatory improvements via Ofcom to support investment (here).

However, most of the coverage achieved so far still reflects commercial builds in urban areas and this is expected to help push UK coverage up to around 80% by the end of 2025 (e.g. Openreach’s build alone should hit 25 million premises by December 2026, and they’re just one of many players). After that, the Government’s new state aid funded £5bn Project Gigabit aims to tackle the final 20% of hardest to reach (predominantly rural) premises by 2030.

The 2023 FTTH Country Ranking

The latest data shows that the UK now has a market penetration rate of 11.1% (up from 6.3% last year), a coverage figure of 42% or 12.4 million homes passed (up from 26.6% and 7.7m) and a take-up rate of 27% (up from 24% last year) – the latter reflects an annual growth in subscribers of 81% or +1.5 million (up from 73%).

On the subject of take-up – markets where FTTP/B is already at a mature level of deployment will naturally have significantly higher take-up, while those where the technology is still in the early process of rapid deployment – like the UK – often appear further behind (i.e. the pace of build is so fast that it suppresses the take-up figure, when expressed as a percentage).

ftth-european-country-ranking-2023-uk

ftth-european-country-take-up-ranking-2023-uk

Overall, the total number of homes passed with FTTP/B style broadband networks in the 39 European countries surveyed reached 219 million (up from 198.4 million last year). The top 5 of the annual growth rates in terms of homes passed is headed by Belgium (+60%), the United Kingdom (+51%), Serbia (+40%), The Netherlands (+34.7%), and Greece (+34.5%).

The overall FTTH/B coverage rate in the EU39 now amounts to 62.2% (up by 5 percentage points vs 2021). We should add that Russia and Belarus were, once again, excluded from this year’s study.

ftth-european-country-homes-passed-ranking-2023-uk

The number of FTTH and FTTB subscribers in the EU39 region also reached 108 million. The 5 fastest growing markets in terms of new subscribers were France (+3.3 M), United Kingdom (+1.5 M), Spain (+1.1 M), Turkey (+898k), and Italy (+822k).

ftth-european-country-subscribers-ranking-2023-uk

In terms of future progress, the council’s report notes that the UK, Germany and Italy still have a long way to go in terms of build, but the UK is forecast to reach 16.8 million homes passed by the end of 2023 (up 35%) and then 30.7 million by the end of 2028 (up by 148% between 2023 and 2028).

In terms of subscribers, the UK is predicted to end 2023 with a total of 4.9 million full fibre subscribers (up by 49% in the year), which will rise to 13.50 million by the end of 2028 (up by 311% between 2023 and 2028). But we should point out that, ultimately, the vast majority of premises will be shifted to full fibre as older copper lines and analogue phone services are gradually retired over the next decade or so.

ftth-european-country-coverage-forecast-2028-uk

Alternative networks (Cityfibre, CommunityFibre, Gigaclear etc.) are still constituting the largest part of FTTH/B players, with around 56% of the total homes in the EU39 being passed by AltNet ISPs. But this is down slightly from 57% last year, as the FTTH Council Europe has observed that incumbent operators are starting to “close the gap” (39%). The remaining 4% being municipalities/utilities.

In terms of rural areas. The report shows that by September 2022, only 41% of rural inhabitants could enjoy the capabilities offered by full-fibre connectivity (compared to the average number of 56% of European households in the EU27+UK region that are covered by FTTH/B networks).

The five countries with the highest Rural FTTH/B coverage are Denmark (86%), Romania (83%), Latvia (77%), Spain (74%), and Portugal (70%).

Eric Festraets, President of the FTTH Council Europe, said:

“The most recent market figures show that we are on the right track to achieve the ambitious connectivity targets set by the European Commission for 2030. However, the data demonstrate that efforts are still required to convince subscribers to choose fibre. Take-up rates are too low in many countries and demand drivers are multiple and complex, and require attention from policymakers as well as service providers.

We rely on policymakers to support the rollout in areas where there is no viable commercial business case and encourage governments and regulators to keep on creating an environment which is favourable to healthy competition and attractive for private investors.”

Despite all this good progress, it’s worth remembering that slower hybrid fibre and copper line based broadband services (FTTC, ADSL etc.) will still be around for a fair few years. The Government’s Project Gigabit scheme is also technology neutral, which means that it can be achieved via the combination of other gigabit technologies too, such as Virgin Media’s Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) network and wireless solutions.

Nevertheless, most new deployments today are primarily focused on fostering full fibre services, which remains the technology of choice for the bulk of new contracts. But the UK is still playing catch-up with many other countries, most of which have been deploying full fibre, at scale, for a decade or so longer than we have. The only advantage to arriving late is that we benefit from more mature technologies and deployment methods.

One final point to make is 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. weak consumer choice). Meanwhile, other countries have a significantly larger proportion of people living in large blocks of flats (e.g. Spain, Portugal), which are much cheaper to serve than countries with a greater proportion of individual houses (e.g. the UK).

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
11 Responses
  1. Avatar photo James says:

    That’s interesting, looking at the map of take up rate, the UK has one of the lowest percentages at 27%.

    Obviously the figure is skewed due to the speed of recent build but still there’s little wonder the Altnets are struggling to move from investment to profit.

    1. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      I am confident the higher takeup elsewhere is a quirk of how FTTP is being done by Openreach. The numbers from leading “takeup” markets imply that the incumbent is mostly replacing copper with fibre including droplinks, so regardless of what speeds the customer opts for, as soon as they’re passed they become part of the takeup. In the UK we have the scenario where a customer can be passed (by altnets or OR) but can opt to remain on OR copper at slower speeds, and many do. The approach of “you’re getting FTTP whether you like it or not” is of course easiest in markets where there’s either de facto monopolies (even allowing a pretence of competitive markets), or where government exerts much stronger control over telecoms than the UK. You can see those influences on the map of takeup.

    2. Avatar photo Ex Telecom Engineer says:

      “In the UK we have the scenario where a customer can be passed (by altnets or OR) but can opt to remain on OR copper at slower speeds, and many do.”

      That makes perfect sense, but why is that the case? If people were unhappy with their FTTC service, they’d be racing to move onto FTTH. I consider our household to be average, we find our FTTC service perfectly adequate and see no immediate need to upgrade to FTTH.
      Much of the hype around the Altnet business case for rolling out Fibre at pace, suggests the UK has received a substandard service and we’re somehow losing out, but the lack of enthusiasm to switch to FTTH would dispute that narrative. There’s no doubt that certain businesses, gamers, and families watching 4k tv in multiple rooms simultaneously, are engaged and switching, but the majority aren’t that engaged.

  2. Avatar photo anonymous says:

    very encouraging even if there’s still more work to be done. It is nice to see that the UK is finally joining the fibre club and not pretending that copper twisted pair is fibre any more. I eagerly await mine. I was almost going to give Openreach £12,000 for FTTPoD but decided to hold off and i’m so glad I did because there’s an altnet currently wiring up my town.

  3. Avatar photo Patrick says:

    It is crazy that Germany is so far behind. The US needs to defeat the Germans again, they are openly impoverishing their own citizens by shutting down their nuclear reactors, polluting with massive coal burning. Openly communist rental controls in cities like Berlin and attacks on freedom of speech to the point that Twitter sends you a notification for violating German law…

    Germany is somehow a worse version of the UK had openreach kept up the monopoly, complete with huge government lobby power to not ban Huawei

    1. Avatar photo Winston Smith says:

      Germany had 67% DOCSIS 3.0, 50% DOCSIS 3.1 and 89% VDSL coverage in June 2020, so there was less impetus to roll out FTTP.

    2. Avatar photo FibreBubble says:

      Germany is expensive to deploy. For example there are restrictions on overhead and surface wiring.

    3. Avatar photo John says:

      That’s what you get for uncontrolled 3 million + migrants coming over…

    4. Avatar photo carlconradw says:

      Gosh, but wouldn’t you like to enjoy the same standard of living as Germans. Go to any German city and see how much better off they are. The fact is that the incumbent Deutsche Telekom is one of the best-capitalised telecoms companies in the world, and when it chooses to, it will be able to deploy its technology faster than we can here in the U.K.

    5. Avatar photo Patrick says:

      DT is a horrible state sponsored monopoly who props up the CCP by mass using Huawei. Because of its monopoly it is not incentivised to innovate, exactly how it happened with BT in the past and why the UK was behind on FTTP. The state has a 30% stake in it and that’s why there is no competition which only harms the end customer

      No idea what you mean with better quality of life but they are getting hit with record high energy bills because of their incompetent govt. At least they can blame the US for blowing their own pipeline and causing one of the biggest recent environmental disasters

  4. Avatar photo Michael Leiper says:

    The UK was ahead in FTTP when BT was state owned.
    They started in 1979, and in 1985, a year after the government sold 50.2% of BT to the public, the UK had more fibre installed (per capita) than any other country in the world.
    In 1986, they had costs down to where FTTH was cheaper to install than copper, and they built factories in Ipswich and Birmingham to build the systems for the FTTH rollout.
    Then Thatcher killed it in 1991 – saying that it made BT too much of a monopoly, which was only an issue because it wasn’t state-owned any more…
    It is literally because it was privatised that we have had such a slow rollout of FTTH/FTTP in the UK.

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