5G industry news

Ofcom Predicts UK to Hit 50% Full Fibre Coverage in March 2023

  • 4 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 2 Mar 2023
  • Last modified 20 Feb 2023
Written by Mark Jackson for IPSReview.co.uk

The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has today used its latest data to predict that the country will finally achieve 50% coverage of full fibre (FTTP/B) broadband ISP networks in March 2023, which is actually slightly down from the prior prediction of 55% that they issued in December 2022.

The forecast itself isn’t particularly surprising because Ofcom’s latest public data to September 2022 (here) had already reported that full fibre networks covered 42% of the UK (12.4 million premises). This is up from 28% (8.2 million premises) one year earlier and just 10% in 2019 (3 million premises). Suffice to say that getting to 50% or more in March looks entirely reasonable.

As usual it’s necessary to point out that the figure for “gigabit-capable broadband” coverage is currently much higher – at 70% (20.8 million premises) in September 2022 – because that covers both full fibre and Virgin Media’s Hybrid Fibre Coax (cable) networks. Both of which can deliver gigabit download speeds, and there’s a lot of overbuild between these two in urban areas.

A big chunk of all this FTTP build progress reflects Openreach’s £15bn rollout programme, which has already done 9.6m premises and they’re aiming for 25m by Dec 2026. But Ofcom notes that smaller Alternative Network (AltNet) providers (e.g. CityFibreHyperopticCommunityFibre etc.) are also expected to reach 11.5m homes by the end of 2023, although there will be a lot of overbuild between these players.

“Full-fibre broadband is better broadband. It’s more reliable, and many times faster than the average ‘superfast’ connections people have largely used in recent years.

Just five years ago, only 6% of homes could get full fibre. But thanks to competition and investment from network builders, that had reached 42% by September last year.

Based on our current data, Ofcom now expects the 50% threshold to be passed in March, and to reach more than 80% within the next two years. There’s still a lot of work to do to bring faster connections to all parts of the country, but progress in recent years has been rapid."

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Group Director.

On top of all that, Ofcom further expects the UK to reach “more than 80%” coverage of full fibre broadband within the next two years, although their most recent planned network developments forecast – as published in December 2022 – actually put the figure for March 2025 at 84% (rising to 92% for gigabit-capable fixed line networks). Suffice to say that we’re not sure if the latest 80% figure is just Ofcom playing it safe, or they’ve revised down their expectation a fair bit from only two months ago.

However, whatever the outcome, it looks as if the Government’s £5bn state aid funded Project Gigabit ambition, which aims to make gigabit speeds available to at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 and “nationwide” coverage by 2030 (here), is likely to meet and exceed its first target. But getting to “nationwide” coverage of gigabit-capable networks by 2030 will be harder, although a range of 97-99% does seem plausible.

The big unknown will be how many of those smaller full fibre AltNets (there are over a hundred of them today) are going to still be around come 2030, after the now seemingly inevitable wave of consolidation has had its way. We still expect plenty of diversity to exist in the market, just a lot less than today. As usual, there will be winners and losers in this race.

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