Point Topic: Lots of UK broadband action, but few results

FEBRUARY 9, 2010 -- Point Topic’s new report on the progress of superfast broadband (“superband” for short) in the UK shows lots of action but not a lot of results to date. Over 30 different projects are active but as yet there are barely 3,000 new superband connections in British homes.

FEBRUARY 9, 2010 -- Point Topic’s new report on the progress of superfast broadband (“superband” for short) in the UK shows lots of action but not a lot of results to date. Over 30 different projects are active but as yet there are barely 3,000 new superband connections in British homes.

Point Topic defines “superband” as services that offer customers broadband with download speeds of at least 25 Mbps at mass-market prices. It covers various architectures based on fiber to the street cabinet or to the home (FTTC or FTTH), also known as next-generation access (NGA).

Projects already firmly scheduled are due to bring superband to the doorsteps of over 2 million homes by the end of 2010. But this will still be far short of reaching Britain as a whole, covering only 8% of all homes, Point Topic asserts.

The figures quoted consider just the BT and “alternative network” (altnet) superband projects. They do not include the 50-Mbps service now available over Virgin Media’s cable network that Point Topic believes will compete strongly with these NGA-type offerings.

For the moment, only a few of the altnet projects have made any connections as yet, Point Topic says. “We’ve identified seven which have got at least 30 homes actually connected,” explains Annelise Berendt, who leads the research for Point Topic. “Between them they had about 1700 lines by the end of last year, while BT accounted for another 1300 or so.”

Point Topic cites some little-known names as being at the forefront of bringing fiber all the way to the home, exploiting the opportunities provided by new housing developments. They include Independent Fibre Networks (IFNL) in Corby, Swindon, and Andover, IsRightHere in Liverpool and Chelsea, and Velocity1 in Wembley. H2O Fibrecity has been using sewage pipes as one route for deploying fiber in Bournemouth.

In the coming year BT should far overtake these pioneers, in Point Topic’s view. BT Retail, with its “BT Infinity” product (see "BT Infinity fiber-based broadband prices set"), and competing ISPs, could be offering superband to as many as 1.5 million homes by September 2010. Digital Region, the biggest of the altnets, should have wired up “a good number” of the 600,000 homes and businesses it will have access to in South Yorkshire by the end of 2010 as well, the analyst firm believes.

Meanwhile, Virgin Media’s cable network is providing a strongly competitive offering for customers who want high speeds. Point Topic estimates 20,000 had signed up for Virgin’s 50-Mbpst service using DOCSIS 3.0 by the end of September 2009. With lower prices likely in the face of competition from BT Retail, that number could easily pass 100,000 during 2010, the company forecasts.

But the numbers are still very modest, Point Topic asserts. “Compare our 3,000 lines with what’s happening abroad,” suggests Tim Johnson, chief analyst at Point Topic. “In Sweden, for example, they’ve been working on superfast fiber for the home since 2005. Now the Swedes have got about 1.2 million superband lines; that’s 38% of all their broadband. Meanwhile we’re standing at less than one-fiftieth of one percent in Britain.”

Britain has also made a slower start than Point Topic forecast, although the shortfall could be made up quite quickly, in the firm’s estimation. “Our latest forecast was for 80,000 superband lines by the end of 2010,” says Johnson. “That looks more of a stretch now but it’s still within reach."

Previously, Point Topic had forecasted that 4 million UK homes would be in reach of fiber by 2013.

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