Sunday, October 8, 2017

UK Coverage of Fixed Superfast Broadband Creeps to Nearly 94% – Q3 2017

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The latest independent data to September 2017 has estimated that "superfast broadband" (24Mbps+) capable fixed line networks now cover 93.9% of premises in the United Kingdom (96.6% if you include all "fibre based" lines of any speed inc. sub-24Mbps), with Wales and Scotland both touching completion.

The data, which has been gathered by Thinkbroadband, suggests that the current Government should roughly achieve their existing coverage target (note: Q2 2017 reported 93%), which aims to put fixed line "superfast broadband" networks within reach of 95% of premises by the end of 2017 (before possibly rising to around 98% by 2020).

Currently UK coverage tends to grow by around 0.2-0.3 percentage points per month, which means that it will probably end up sitting just shy of 95% by the end of December 2017. However TBB's statistics wisely tend to be a bit more pessimistic than official figures (i.e. officially the Gov will be close enough to claim victory) and getting that close to such a significant target on a major project would still be a very good achievement.

At this point it's worth remembering that the first c.70-75% of coverage was largely achieved by commercial deployments via Openreach (BT) and Virgin Media (plus some smaller altnets), while most of the final 25-30% is benefiting from around £1.6bn+ of public investment via the Broadband Delivery UK programme. Separately a further c.£600m has also been earmarked to support future "full fibre" (FTTP/H) deployments (here), although that is a separate development.

Below you can see the latest data to the end of September 2017 (Q3) and as usual we've stripped out some of the more confusing aspects in order to make it easier to understand. We've also left in the 10Mbps figure as this will be a useful gauge for understanding the ever shrinking scale of the proposed Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband, which could be fully introduced by 2020 (details).

NOTE: The term "fibre based" below includes fibre optic and hybrid fibre solutions, such as FTTP, FTTC / VDSL2 / G.fast and Cable (DOCSIS), albeit without any definition of speed (e.g. some FTTC lines deliver speeds below 24Mbps). Elsewhere most of the below "ultrafast" (100Mbps+) coverage is coming from Virgin Media's cable network (50.8% UK coverage), although Openreach, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, Cityfibre, TrueSpeed and others all have big "full fibre" (FTTP/H) expansion ambitions for related services (here, here, here, here and here) and the rapid 330Mbps G.fast roll-out to 10 million premises by 2020 will also help.

Area% Fibre based% Superfast 24Mbps+% Superfast 30Mbps+% Ultrafast 100Mbps+Full Fibre (FTTP/H)% Under 10Mbps USO
United Kingdom96.693.993.653.042.832.8
England9794.694.255.933.142.3
London97.496.496.371.35.220.7
Scotland95.191.691.142.950.515
Rest of Scotland95.893.192.847.460.523.8
Wales96.192.691.932.743.214.4
Northern Ireland98.48482.931.360.5710.6
Highlands and Islands (Scotland)88.376.374.80.120.1217.7

Take note that each devolved region has its own policy and targets, which all feed into the central UK target. For example, Wales has proposed a new aspiration to reach "every property" with 30Mbps+ broadband by 2020 (here) and Scotland hope to do the same by 2021 (here). The 'Highlands and Islands' and 'Rest of Scotland' areas above represent the two halves of Scotland's overall roll-out programme.

Obviously one of the weaker entries appears to be Northern Ireland, which has good "fibre based" coverage but they're clearly struggling to deliver speeds of 24Mbps+ to those within reach. However it's likely that the recent deal between the DUP and UK Government, which gifted £150 million to help N.I "provide ultra-fast broadband" to its population (here), should improve things (assuming the current political deadlock is broken).

Meanwhile Scotland appears to have more or less achieved their goal of 95% "high speed fibre broadband" coverage (the current deployment is due to end by March 2018), although the reach of "superfast broadband" is still trailing a little way behind. Likewise Wales also appear to have pretty much hit their first 96% "fibre broadband" target, albeit with "superfast" speeds trailing again.

As stated earlier, this data is only an estimate and thus should be taken with a pinch of salt, not least because it won't always reflect the real-world (this is particularly true where issues like faulty lines, poor home wiring, slow WiFi and other problems can result in a much slower speeds than expected). However it's still one of the best gauges that we have for checking against official Government claims.

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