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85% of UK People Haven’t Heard of Alternative Broadband Networks

Thursday, Jul 6th, 2023 (9:42 am) - Score 5,632
confused uk consumer

One of the biggest challenges for cheaper, and often faster, alternative broadband networks is the issue of consumer awareness. A new Opinium survey of 2,000 UK adults (conducted during May 2023), which was commissioned by Uswitch, has found that only 15% of respondents have heard of altnets before.

The results are interesting, not least because the survey revealed that almost two thirds of broadband customers (61%) would also like to see more variety and choice in terms of broadband providers in their local area. Suffice to say that, as AltNets rapidly expand, that choice will increasingly exist, but it might not matter if not enough people are aware of it.

Cost (72%) and speed (62%) were also found to be two of the three most important factors when considering a broadband deal – two areas where altnets excel. The average value for a traditional provider works out around 5Mbps per £1, based on some of the latest deals available at Uswitch – while top altnets are offering either twice or three times that.

The demand for more choice may also be partly motivated by lower satisfaction with current providers – 66% of broadband customers said that they had encountered problems with their home broadband connection, with outages (30%) topping the list, followed by speeds being slower than advertised (30%).

Some Context for Awareness

On the flip side, the lack of consumer awareness may at least partly reflect the fact that full fibre AltNets don’t yet have wide availability. For example, our latest report on network coverage (here) noted that AltNets alone (excluding KCOM, Openreach and Virgin Media) were found to have so far covered 23.64% of UK premises with Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology (up from 18.20% in H2 2022).

New networks typically conduct advertising campaigns (leaflets, posters etc.) and community meetings as they deploy across new locations, thus we should be expecting awareness of their service to rise as coverage improves and brand familiarity grows.

However, even then there will be problems, as people tend to put a lower level of trust in unfamiliar brands. One way to counter that is to attract the support of major ISPs, but so far only one of the major providers (TalkTalk) can truly be said to be embracing multiple AltNets. By comparison, Vodafone stick to Openreach and CityFibre, while BT and Sky Broadband are Openreach-only platforms and the closest Virgin Media has come to working with an AltNet is nexfibre, which was setup by their parent company.

All of this is important because some of the cheapest and fastest broadband packages tend to now be found on AltNets. According to the survey, some of the cheapest and fastest services – as measured by Mbps per £ – are from Gigaclear (450,000 premises passed), CommunityFibre (nearly 1 million premises) and Hyperoptic (1.15 million premises).

The above list should be a lot longer, but Uswitch only cover a few of the 100+ AltNets that actually exist. In addition, some of those ISPs listed as “AltNets” are just smaller ISPs and not actually AltNets (e.g. Onestream, Pop Telecom) and for added confusion, the comparison site also throws in mobile network operators.

Provider Mbps per £ (based on Uswitch.com deals) Download Speed (real world speed tests) Upload Speed (real world speed tests)
Alt-net providers
Gigaclear 15 162 197
CommunityFibre 14.2 195 212
Hyperoptic 11.9 185 214
KCOM 10.5 92 61
Cuckoo 9.4 62 13
Pop Telecom 1.4 97 73
Onestream 2.5 27 65
Direct Save Telecom 1.1 78 47
Traditional Providers
TalkTalk 8.7 47 39
Virgin Media 8.7 152 68
Vodafone 7.3 74 69
Sky Broadband 5.6 44 47
Three UK 5.4 72 153
Shell Energy 3.4 24 11
Plusnet 3.4 33 40
BT 1.4 75 42
NOW (NOW TV) 1 31 81

Finally, it’s worth noting that most AltNets also tend to be absent from commercial price comparison sites, which is the means by which many consumers hunt for a new ISP. But of course you won’t find this problem on ISPreview.co.uk as we don’t charge ISPs a fee to be listed, it’s free.

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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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19 Responses
  1. Avatar photo M says:

    I am surprised the percentage is even this high.

    A lot of this is self-inflicted. Either marketing teams not focusing on their own areas well, or at all. Some even go as far as to try and capture as much data as they can about customers that are literally on the other side of the country… so you end up with users that know about only completely irrelevant companies.

    Then of course the issue with comparison sites is they’re incentivised to take the most amount of money they can. This works when you’re in a VM area as they pay well, but if the options are Openreach and an Altnet? You’re going to end up on the former.
    It’s ironic this research was funded by Uswitch.

    There are probably 20 different complaints I could make in this area and (not all, but many) altnets simply don’t seem to understand or care.

    1. Avatar photo Flame Henry says:

      A lot of the AltNets sound very generic. I think the ones that do marketting well are ones that target a specific community and deliver the message that they are specifically serving that community. Hopefully, customers are more likely to sign up if they think they’re helping out a local business looking after their interests, which is what these AltNets should be doing if they hope to stand up against faceless multinational corporations.

      Ogi have got it absolutely right. They know they’re not going to be all over the UK, so they focus on Welsh communities, base themselves in Wales, staff themselves with local people and their PR and Marketing has a local focus. Who wouldn’t want to support a business like that? And maybe forgive them the disruption they cause in the process (jobs for the local lads).

      Then there is B4RN and the like which is obviously non-profit, but again, if they were building my village, why wouldn’t you want to support their effort?

      FibreGigaComNet… backed by AbuDhabi Venture Captial Fund… building a handful of streets from Blackpool to Braknell. Good luck trying to market a company like that as being interested in anything other than using your pavement to stoke up their RFS and fibre km figures.

    2. Avatar photo M says:

      I’m purposely trying not to bring up company names/examples but Ogi has indeed handled it well and is definitely an exception here and I do admire their more community-focused approach.
      However, I don’t believe this is necessarily a requirement.

      Sometimes it just appears as if altnets are not interested in earning a customer base and I can’t help but feel like this is intentional.

  2. Avatar photo Jan says:

    Good analysis. There’s other factors to conside when choosing an isp such as flexibility of voice provider, if you require a ‘landline’. Porting a number to a voip provider shouldn’t have to mean cancellation of the entire product now we have sogea even on vdsl. Will be interesting to see when I move to gigaclear and port my vodafone number away if it actually cancels the vdsl

    1. Avatar photo MikeP says:

      A&A can do exactly that.

      I’ve done it with my ADSL line so that it makes testing & migration of VoIP to fibre easier when (or rather if) it arrives. And if it doesn’t happen first, I’ve made the migration to VoIP on my timescale, not BT’s. Went as smoothly as they promise (except for some hiccups at the BT end that meant I couldn’t manage line characteristics from the control panel, but that was a really minor issue, given no other provider gives you that control).

      And it’s a very keenly priced VoIP product.

  3. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    Zzoomm around here have been blasting houses with their leaflets., so they should be known, the problem is, some people say they will not change to zzoomm because of the mess they made while laying the fibre, others because they are happy with what they have and others because they will stray with the provider they have now and just change to fibre, not knowing the difference. I hope I can at least get some people to change.

  4. Avatar photo Anonymous says:

    Alt nets could certainly do a lot more marketing, especially on price comparison websites. However those said websites could do better themselves by staying more up to date. Virgin Media still isn’t showing up for me on many of those sites despite being available at my address for months now. Had I not received a leaflet through the letter box I’d have never known. Hopefully the alt nets deliver leaflets too when they arrive since finding info online can be difficult sometimes.

    1. Avatar photo Broady says:

      A lot of price comparisons won’t touch alt-nets unless they have a large RFS number. The cost for the price comparison to integrate isn’t justified unless significant postcode availability + they’re incentivised to list the legacy ISPs higher.

    2. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Think about this from the perspective of the Price Comparison Websites. Over the past two years, the licence to print money that was energy switches has vanished. In 2018, Uswitch alone made £85m from energy switches – that’s just what energy suppliers paid them. That’s vanished along with all competition in the energy market, so the PCWs are wondering where to replace that free lunch from. It’s been made worse by new rules in insurance that require insurers to offer existing customers the same price as new, so there’s another income stream that’s turned to a dribble. Where’s a growing sector, with the prospect of lots of switching, and weak regulation? Telecoms looks promising. The big incumbent ISPs like Virgin Media, Sky, BT have all dutifully paid the PCW tax to get new customers for years so that aspect isn’t new, and I’d hazard a guess that the cost is around £60 for a basic broadband switch, up to around £120 for two year full fat broadband and content package.

      The problem for the PCWs is that altnets are mostly not playing ball with this business model, whereby PCW’s capture customers by offering a source of information (from the ISPs themselves) and then sell the prospective customers to those ISPs. Hence a study that says “woooh, look altnets, nobody’s heard of you!”.

  5. Avatar photo Alex A says:

    2000 people isn’t a lot. Where did they ask? If you asked in my town almost nobody would know because we currently don’t have any altnets (Cityfibre are building but have no publicity in this town yet)

    1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      a correctly selected sample of 2000 people should be fine.

      that’s how political polls and the like are normally done, they know how the UK population is comprised and will have selected 2000 people based on that.

      Opinium are a legit pollster so I would expect it to be safe to assume it to be correct. Remember that a lot of people still think that BT is the only ISP they can get…

    2. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      I don’t know if cityfibre do much in the way of publicity as they are a wholesale provider and sell through ISPs such as Zen and Talk Talk. Ofcom want to encourage competition in infrastructure but my belief they are in danger of just confusing the general public.

    3. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      CF absolutely do. At least when they were building in the nearby town, literally every bus had one of their advertisements on it.

      More than Openreach do (unless you count the ads they have put on cabinets in certain locations)

    4. Avatar photo Alex A says:

      @Ivor fair enough, I haven’t heard of Opinium before but if they’ve taken a good representation then its good.

      Cityfibre (unlike Openreach) do advertise a lot, though their rollout here is taking a while for a PIA build.

    5. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Ivor: “a correctly selected sample of 2000 people should be fine.”

      Yes, but it’s also an opportunity to get the outcome the survey funder wants. Choose your demographic, and you can get not quite any result, but certainly a very wide range. And that’s before the terminology of the questions, which has been an easy way of influencing results.

      The answers and the analysis should always be correct if undertaken by a reputable survey firm, but the generalisability of the findings may be (and often is) questionable. Uswitch and other companies aren’t paying good money for research without a very clear idea of a positive business outcome for them.

  6. Avatar photo Kelly says:

    I bet almost everyone working in the Jobcentre will of heard of the Altnets… Or they will do soon when the consolidations really start happening.

  7. Avatar photo Bob says:

    I think with all these Alt Nets we will end up with another Cable TV type fiasco. The various Cable TV network were all built to different standards and the economics never worked and we ended up with a slow and painful consolidation of them. Some of the networks were so bad they had to be replaced totally

    How long some of these Alt Nets can survive remains to be seen. Low levels of take up. High initial costs. High levels of debt and increasing cost of servicing that debt

    Even the TV shopping Channels seem to be struggling with Ideal World having gone bust

  8. Avatar photo Nicholas Roberts says:

    I have.
    Its called Royal Mail and Ham Radio

  9. Avatar photo gordon jackson says:

    With Hyperopic for years. Currently 1Gb/s for 30£/month, locked in for 3 years.

Comments are closed

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