Altnets help drive fibre broadband in UK but labour shortage is concern

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Increasing competition between major infrastructure builders, especially from alternative network infrastructure providers (altnets), should help the UK rise the global connectivity table in the coming years.

Research from Ookla suggests the UK’s median broadband download speed of 61.7Mbps is only enough to rank 55th globally but expects the greater availability of fibre, coupled with greater awareness at a retail level to improve the situation.

Two thirds of households can now receive gigabit broadband. Openreach has so far connected seven million homes to full fibre, while all 15.8 million properties connected to Virgin Media O2’s network can receive 1Gbps via a combination of fibre to the premise (FTTP) and cable technology. 

Ultrafast broadband

Altnets, including CityFibre, Gigaclear, and Hyperoptic, have connected more than 5.5 million homes and businesses to date. 

While CityFibre’s ambition is to become a genuine infrastructure challenger to Openreach, others have extended fibre coverage to rural communities underserved by national providers.   

While Virgin Media O2 offers the fastest median download speed nationally with 116.4Mbps, several altnets lead the way in major cities, including Glasgow, Liverpool, London, and Manchester, as well as in several counties.

Openreach plans to reach 25 million properties by 2025, while Virgin Media O2 looking to roll out FTTP across its infrastructure by 2028 and find a partner for a joint-venture that will connect a further seven million properties by 2027. CityFibre’s target is 8 million by 2025.

However, Ookla suggested one of the biggest barriers to full fibre might not be investment but skills – an issue that the government itself has acknowledged. The new government has suggested that visa requirements broadband engineers could be relaxed in order to accelerate deployment.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.