Is the UK's broadband moving closer to becoming fully fibre?

22 June 2017   By Samantha Smith

THREE of the UK's leading fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband providers have jointly called on the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to ban the use of the term "fibre broadband" to advertise internet services carried partly over copper wires or cables.

fibre broadband optics

Hyperoptic, CityFibre and Gigaclear have argued that the use of the term to advertise part-copper services is misleading, and that ASA should conclude their investigation of it by stipulating that it can be used to advertise only fully fibre services, such as theirs.

Meanwhile, KCOM - who are the dominant ISP in Hull - are reportedly planning to switch off their part-copper broadband connections and move to a full fibre, FTTP service.

However, while such developments might suggest that Britain is now moving in a direction that makes a full-fibre future likelier than ever before, other indicators hint that the nation's broadband will remain largely part-copper or -cable for a long time to come.


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In light of the joint statement from the three ISPs, it could perhaps be hoped that ASA will eventually end up banning the use of "fibre broadband" to advertise fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) services.

In theory, such a ban would eventually result in FTTP broadband becoming more widespread, as more customers come to appreciate and demand the difference in speed and reliability of "true" fibre broadband, and as ISPs such as BT and Sky provide more FTTP broadband themselves in order to keep up with their growing rivals.

To a certain extent, such a process may already be underway, seeing as how certain providers are apparently pushing through with fully fibre broadband services.

KCOM, for instance, have recently announced their aspiration to transition their Hull broadband network from part to full fibre.

Similarly, the three smaller ISPs urging ASA to act have also been expanding recently. CityFibre, for instance, gained full ISO status at the beginning of June (meaning they're fully compliant with international management standards), and expanded their FTTP network over the past year via acquisitions and new builds.

Given this progress, it's clear that the bigger ISPs are going to face stiffer competition in the coming months and years, and that perhaps the only way they'll be able to meet this competition is by providing more FTTP connections.

Small competition

There's little question that such an eventuality would be good for the UK's broadband, which at the moment can boast only 2% FTTP coverage, and which lags behind that of other nations when it comes to full fibre.

However, it's unlikely that the actions of KCOM, Hyperoptic, CityFibre, and Gigaclear alone will be enough to speed up the rate at which the UK transfers to full-fibre broadband.

We commend the ASA for engaging in the real fibre question; as the opportunity to choose full fibre is growing across the country, consumers want to understand their choices and not be misled by terminology applied too generically
Dana Tobak, Hyperoptic

There are numerous reasons for this, yet it's mostly because they're still too small and their rivals are still too big and influential.

For example, even though KCOM may very well switch to a full-fibre network, their network is restricted to Hull, and doesn't really carry any wider relevance for the rest of the country. As a result, the likes of BT and Virgin Media could continue ignoring them with little danger of losing their respective strangleholds on the rest of the country.

Likewise, for all the progress the other three alternative networks have made in recent years, they're still very small.

CityFibre, to take one as an example, announced in their annual report that they increased "connected customer premises" from 1,200 in 2015 to 3,962 in 2016.

While this represents a 230% increase, it's very small in absolute terms, and suggests that it will be a while before CityFibre grow to the size where they become a serious threat to BT or Virgin Media.

The big ISPs

And conversely, these bigger providers - who effectively control the market and have much more of a direct marketing line to the UK's broadband customers - have little intention of making FTTP a big part of their future broadband offerings.

BT, for instance, aim to upgrade their copper-based network with technology, which will boost the speeds it offers but will still have certain reliability issues, insofar as performance will degrade with the distance of a person's home from the telephone cabinet.

Correspondingly, Virgin Media's Project Lightning has restricted its FTTP coverage to only half of the four million new connections it plans to deliver by 2019.

Given such limitations, it becomes apparent that although full fibre broadband will compose an increasing part of the UK's internet diet, it won't form the main part.

And this will most likely remain the case even if ASA listen to CityFibre, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear, and act on the misleading use of "fibre broadband" in advertising.

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