The pace of full fibre deployments from alternative network providers (altnets) more than doubled in 2019, with their combined footprints now covering 1.2 million homes and businesses.
The vast majority of the UK’s superfast broadband is powered by Openreach’s fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) infrastructure or by Virgin Media’s cable network.
Both companies are now investing in fibre to the premise (FTTP) technology and the government has adopted a full fibre strategy.
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Altnet fibre coverage
However several new firms, such as Cityfibre, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear, have spent the past few years building FTTP networks in urban and rural parts of the country, hoping to service underserved communities, businesses, and consumers seeking faster speeds. Meanwhile, it is also estimated that a further two million premises in rural areas can be connected by fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband.
A new report from the Independent Networks Co-Operative Association (INCA) noted that continued investments in the sector is driving momentum and predicts that altnets could cover up to 2.4 million properties by the end of the year and 15.7 million by 2025 – if investment and regulatory conditions are favourable.
Altnets will also hope to benefit from government funding programmes that aim to promote investment in fibre infrastructure. At present there are 366,000 live FTTP connections powered by altnets and 110,00 FWA customers.
“The substantial increase from last year is very promising,” said Malcolm Corbett, CEO at INCA. “These impressive results are reflected in the scale of investment in the UK’s digital infrastructure. We calculate that a commitment of £6.6bn has been announced for the independent operators. Coronavirus has demonstrated clearly the reliance we all have on connectivity. We look forward to seeing Government continuing to prioritise renewal of the UK’s digital infrastructure, both fixed-line and wireless.”
However there are concerns that the ongoing coronavirus outbreak could slow progress. INCA addressed the elephant in the room, noting that Covid-19 was a major challenge for the industry, but said that concerns had been eased by government regulations that had made it easier for engineers to perform street works.
The success of altnets has attracted interest from private equity firms. In 2018, CityFibre was acquired by private equity firms for £538 million, while Hull-based ISP KCOM is being purchased by Australian fund Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MIRA). Last year, KKR took a majority stake in Hyperoptic.
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