UK Altnets Surpass BT’s Openreach in Fibre Rollout

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A recent market study by INCA (Independent Networks Cooperative Association) and Point Topic reveals that alternative network builders in the UK have collectively expanded fibre infrastructure to more premises than BT’s Openreach unit. By the end of 2023, UK altnets had reached 12.9 million premises with fibre, exceeding Openreach’s coverage of 12.8 million.

This milestone reflects a significant shift, considering the growth ambitions of major players like CityFibre, which supports prominent retail ISPs. The State of the Altnets report highlights the impressive rate of growth among these alternative providers. Nearly 7 million premises in the UK now solely rely on altnet-supplied fibre, a testament to the increasing competition and investment in underserved areas.

Over the past year, altnets expanded their footprint to cover 35% of UK premises, a notable jump from 25% in 2022. The report underscores the increasing competitiveness of altnets, once significantly behind incumbents like Openreach. Altnets are defined as companies deploying broadband infrastructure independently of BT or Virgin Media O2.

Despite their growing infrastructure, altnets currently serve just under 2 million customers, less than half of Openreach’s customer base. However, INCA remains optimistic, pointing out a 33% year-on-year growth in customer acquisition, with nearly half a million customers switching to altnet services in the past year alone. This positive uptake rate, currently at 15%, suggests a receptive market.

Looking ahead, INCA predicts altnets will expand their customer base to 3 million by year-end, with a projected overall footprint covering 16.7 million premises. Altnets are urged to further enhance their market share and customer adoption to compete effectively with legacy ISPs.

The report also highlights a trend towards consolidation and collaboration within the altnet landscape. Companies like CityFibre have been vocal about industry consolidation, evident in recent acquisitions. Smaller operators are also pursuing mergers and acquisitions to bolster their competitive position.

Despite challenges, altnets play a crucial role in advancing UK fibre infrastructure, particularly in areas historically neglected by incumbents. The report reveals significant fibre deployment in rural and small-town markets, surpassing expectations set by regulators.

As the UK’s broadband landscape evolves, the role of altnets in expanding connectivity and competition is poised to become increasingly pivotal. Their efforts not only challenge incumbents but also drive innovation and accessibility across the country’s digital infrastructure.

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