back to article Consolidation looms for UK broadband providers

Resesarch on UK gigabit broadband investment toasts alternative network providers' efforts to build infrastructure, but warns that the number of them has now become unsustainable and a period of consolidation looms. The study, "What Lies Ahead: ISPA Altnet Gigabit Broadband Investor Report" [PDF] from the Internet Services …

  1. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

    It's a strange market. Apparently closer to 42% UK FTTP coverage today.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Yeah but...

      My area was 'cabled' for FTTP/FTTH in Aug/Sep 2021. Yet, it has yet to be activated. The boxes at the top of the poles remain DOA.

      What is taking them so long?

      All attempts to get a date for activation is met with "it is in our plan." Will they say when? Nope.

      apparently, OpenRetch wasn't involved in the work in my area. They went to an outfit called TOOB.

      Apart from giving me a 'From' price their website is bare of real facts.

      I guess that they are waiting for enough suckers to sign up before switching it on?

      1. AnotherName

        Re: Yeah but...

        I spotted a local infrastructure support company laying fibre in the Openreach ducts opposite my house, so I went out to ask them who they were doing it for. Found out it was for YouFibre, so I called them straight away and booked an installation for the following week. Everything is working well and I've ditched BT FTTC and landline and ported my number. Getting double the download and seven times the upload for half the price!

        When I first moved in 19 months ago I ordered the BT installation and it took about a month before the landline was installed with temporary internet access over 4G with poor signal coverage in this rural edge of village area.

      2. cyberdemon Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Yeah but...

        As a Toob customer I can tell you it's worth the wait.

        I'm on 900Mbps (link is 1Gbps and it tests at ~930 at speedcheck and fast) for £25/month

        It's symmetric, but half-duplex i.e. it's only one fibre that can do 1Gbps up OR 1Gbps down, so probably the missing 70Mbps is spent on link arbitration. This doesn't seem to affect latency though - 3ms ping to 8.8.8.8

        I'd be gutted if they got 'consolidated' into one of the big providers though. As a small operator, they are not required to block sites such as sci-hub, tpb etc ..

        1. SImon Hobson

          Re: Yeah but...

          Are you sure it's half duplex ?

          There are full duplex systems that use one fibre - using different frequencies (light colour) for the down and upstream link. In reality, it's just an extension of using frequency division multiplexing to run multiple subscribers on one fibre which is how the OpenRetch FTTP (not FTTPoD) works.

      3. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Yeah but...

        Indeed Toob are doing the infrastructure way ahead of their 'go live' date. Not sure quite why

  2. Caver_Dave
    Unhappy

    Typical

    The small companies put in the hard effort to roll-out the fibre network in often difficult situations, when the big boys don't want to.

    I worked in my evenings with an independent supplier for 2 years to get enough people signed up to invest in FTTP into our local villages after BT refused, (even with the offer of BDUK funding.) It was worth it though as we could work during Covid, rather than have to struggle on the less than 1M we had before.

    Now the hard work and investment is done, the money people want to move in and milk the cow dry.

    1. Martin Summers

      Re: Typical

      Basically the way Virgin Media eventually came in to being. The likes of Comtel/Telewest becoming ntl then Virgin. It is history repeating itself. Infrastructure costs a fortune and the only sensible way out in the end if you're not covering your costs is to sell up to a bigger fish.

  3. devin3782 Silver badge

    But the big ISP's are dreadful, I'm on a fibre connection using city fibres infrastructure, none of the big ISP's vodafone, talktalk etc... will provide a symmetric 1GB connection why? because they're a bunch of arse holes also who wants a router with the alexa pervertware built in

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      none of the big ISP's vodafone, talktalk etc... will provide a symmetric 1GB connection why?

      Because it's rarely required for domestic users, and so they design their networks for asymmetric operation. Sounds like you want business-class service for domestic prices?

      1. VoiceOfTruth

        Not sure why you have been downvoted. It seems some people expect to pay peanuts for a commercial grade link. Why does a home user *need* (not want) a 1Gbit uplink?

        1. Mad Dave

          Because they work from home as a video editor / CAD engineer / software repackager / audio engineer and need to shift hundreds of GBs of data daily? On a standard BT broadband package, you'd be looking at about 20 hours to upload Adobe Creative Cloud to a central repository.

          Just because it isn't your usage case, doesn't mean it isn't anyone elses.

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Because they work from home as a video editor / CAD engineer / software repackager / audio engineer and need to shift hundreds of GBs of data daily?

            So, pay for a business broadband service, like you would if you worked in an office.

            Declaring your home as your office and then expecting to get a professional service for domestic prices is hardly reasonable.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Sometimes there really is no realistic alternative service.

              The only options where I live are adsl (2mb down 0.4mb up) or fttc (14mb down 1mb up).

              fttp apparently does not exist here (them laying a new duct & fibre across my drive 3 years ago must have been my imagination).

              The unrealistic option is the fibre equivalent of a leased line (dedicated fibre straight from the exchange to here) 500mb up/down, last time I looked into the costs it was a minimum of £20,000 + additional costs for wayleaves & construction / roadworks (estimated total +/- 25% £52,000) then a minimum 5 year contract at £2000 per month. Total estimated cost for 5 years £172,000 (£34,400 per year).

              1. Roland6 Silver badge

                >fttp apparently does not exist here (them laying a new duct & fibre across my drive 3 years ago must have been my imagination).

                Given you are getting FTTC, that fibre probably goes to a cabinet, to provide the fibre-to-the-cabinet aka exchange backhaul...

                > last time I looked into the costs it was a minimum of £20,000 + additional costs for wayleaves & construction / roadworks (estimated total +/- 25% £52,000)

                Infrastructure is expensive, when I looked at putting FTTP into my village (circ 2012), we also had to budget for two street cabinet installations at £30k each...

                Yet people want someone else to foot the bill and only charge them £30 pcm...

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  @Roland6

                  "Given you are getting FTTC, that fibre probably goes to a cabinet, to provide the fibre-to-the-cabinet aka exchange backhaul..."

                  I don't think it's backhaul, it runs in the duct across my drive then goes up the pole on the corner of my garden round a figure 8 form a few times and then goes back underground, then at the end of my road it comes back out and runs on poles for about 2 miles (that I have noted), where there are no properties it's just straight pole to pole, where there are properties it drops down the pole halfway and does a few loops round a figure 8.

                  My thoughts were that the figure 8 loops were where the fibre could be tapped in the future.

                  1. Roland6 Silver badge

                    Re: @Roland6

                    Given your description of the installation, I would agree with your analysis.

                    Suspect from what I've seen around here the OR fibre team have done their work, however, the fibre may not actually be for OR; OR installed the pole mounted Gigaclear fibre to a row of cottages near me, it took some months before the Gigaclear engineers did their part. So given the multi year lag you've seen wouldn't be surprised if either OR have it as a low priority job for their fibre node team (too few subscribers per node), or the original ISP who installed the fibre have effectively abandoned it.

            2. Mad Dave

              Yes? They tried to.

              >none of the big ISP's vodafone, talktalk etc... will provide a symmetric 1GB connection

              1. Roland6 Silver badge

                But why would a residential ISP provide a symmetric 1GB connection?

                I suggest at least 98% of household needs can be satisfied by sub 100/25Mbps connections.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like what happened in the energy sector.

    Deregulate, get a load of sharks whose sole job is to interpose themselves between the mark ^H^H^H^H customer and the real providers. Extract as much as you can for doing as little as you can and wait for the wheels to fall off and either go bust or get bought up by a real supplier.

    Have I missed anything ?

  5. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

    Still waiting here

    My house I sold 6 months ago, wasn't due to get FTTP until at least 2026, it did have virgin but their service was atrocious and when I was on a 100Mb service, it was as low as 172Kb and the average was about 18Mb... (not a typo) due to their oversubscribing pipes and actively degrading the service of anyone who 'dared' to use a VPN. I ended up getting out of that contract early without penalty as well as having refunds.

    Moved back in with family for a while, and they do have FTTP in their road... but not worth signing up for a new contract for 6 months, as we are literally moving again in 2 days... Movers packing the house tomorrow.

    New house is still only FTTC but at least close enough to get close to the upper limit with a guaranteed 59Mb limit from the ISP... Openreach claim FTTP is coming in 2025 to that street.

    Also... everything is moving to VOIP... no one is actually doing landlines at all anymore... and if you don;t have a mobile, or live anywhere with a decent signal... or have any kind of medical device that communicates over a landline. They simply won't offer you a service at all.

    I'd love a gigabit connection... I'm wiring the new house with cat6 to all bedrooms and lounge at the same time as running new aerial cabling, and getting a new switch with 2.5Gb as my server and main rig have onboard 2.5... streaming from my mediaserver around the house is an issue if I have to use wifi from the server, to the access point and then out over wifi to devices... it just gets swamped streaming 4k media at far higher bitrates than anything any streaming service offers.... 10x better in most cases... hence the need for 2.5Gb

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Still waiting here

      Heh! I did that 20 years ago - only it was cat5e then.

      P.S. I really should replace that hub with a switch!

    2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Still waiting here

      I also noticed VM degrading my connection when using a VPN. Oddly if I used my phone to try a speed test miraculously it speeded up!

      Just got a connection using City Fibre pipes and went for mid-speed package so seeing just over 300Mbit up and down, so tomorrow phoning VM to cancel things.

      Only odd thing (and it might be the ISP I am using) is to replace the supplied router (actually half-decent TP-Link box) with my openWRT router it needed the WAN port to be tagged with a specific VLAN. Not seen that before.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Still waiting here

        "I also noticed VM degrading my connection when using a VPN. Oddly if I used my phone to try a speed test miraculously it speeded up!"

        I noticed something similar with my VM connection a few months back. In my case, I was grabbing a few torrents (all legit and above board, honest guv!) when the slowdowns were most glaringly obvious. VM and some form of traffic shaping seemed like the obvious culprit since, like you, if I ran a speed test it would all miraculously speed up for a while. I just put up with it after rebooting everything on the network and assuming all was well my end. Then one day, for no obvious reason, I looked a lot more closely at my firewall and found a network card was badly misbehaving when many and multiple connections were transiting it.after both pulling the HDD and installing PFSense in place of Smoothwall and then building an entire "new" box from different parts. The PCI NIC card for the 2nd network interface was the only thing in common, so it was either that or VM at fault. It was the NIC.

        Now, I'm not saying that VM definitely don't do any form of traffic shaping or limiting and you may well be right. I'm just saying that you need to be sure it's not something at your end, something like my NIC, which really wasn't showing anything in logs or anywhere else that it was the source of my woes.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I knew it was fscked in 1993 ...

    A friend bought a new build. When I visited they still had no road or pavement. When I asked when they were getting fibre, it turned out BT had them down for 1999 when it needed both roads and pavements digging up and 3 weeks work rather than the day it would have taken before the road and pavements were laid.

    They were still waiting for fibre when they sold up in 2001.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: I knew it was fscked in 1993 ...

      A common story. BT has an infrastructure team that works with developers to get the plant in place. Problem is a lot of developers don't care, so don't bother installing the infrastructure. They are generally happy to charge ground rents, service charges etc for not providing basic services/utilities.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I knew it was fscked in 1993 ...

        Well said.

        Most of the new builds that are being thrown up in this country are very poor in quality. One development near me, the developer (one of the majors) skimped on the power supply to each house. 60A max instead of the 100A as was in the plans. Is the developer going to pay to have it upgraded? Pigs will fly first.

        60A means that most EV chargers (which draw 32A for a 7.5kW device) have to be dialled back to 5kW max.

        They put in cheapo combi boilers that won't last 3 years. The list goes on. These 500K homes are IMHO, not worth 500p.

        1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: I knew it was fscked in 1993 ...

          This is not new.

          In the 1960s I remember seeing a major development near Reading built on top of a landfilled gravel pit that was only topped over 2 years previously. I sneaked inside one of them that was mostly built... and was horrified with what I saw. Pathetically thin joists badly fitted on cinder-block walls that had more cough ventilation cough than cement.

          1. MJI Silver badge

            Re: I knew it was fscked in 1993 ...

            Quite a few years ago (mid 80s) a nearby town had a new estate built north of it.

            Very variable construction standards.

            Council houses were of a better quality, than the houses for sale.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I knew it was fscked in 1993 ...

              Councils had taxpayer cash to spend, no need to balance budgets.

              1. Roland6 Silver badge

                Re: I knew it was fscked in 1993 ...

                No the builders have successfully lobbied gullible governments to ensure the building regulations that govern construction of houses for sale to job public are weak(*), compared to those required for council houses. Hence they can build rabbit hutches for £60k and sell for £300k plus land price, council houses are built to contract so its £60k + 20% margin.

                As recent events have made abundantly clear, the Conservatives object to this style of deal because it favours the buyer and not the well-heeled Conservative party backers.

                (*)We could have been building carbon zero houses since the early 2000's, but lobbying by the majors mean it is only now, some 20 years later, the regulations are catching up...

            2. Jess--

              Re: I knew it was fscked in 1993 ...

              Council houses used to be more basic but better constructed because the council expected to have to maintain them for the next 50+ years, Houses for private ownership only needed to last as long as the guarantee.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I knew it was fscked in 1993 ...

      Wait till your scummy, deprived-zone, crime-ridden corner of the 'burbs is rocking 100Mb/s while your CEOs Surrey mansion struggles to get 10Mb/s

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: I knew it was fscked in 1993 ...

      We had a slightly different problem. The planners decided back in 1998 when approving the plans for an 800 home development that installing Virgin cable was "out of character" for the rural location. Thus the estate was built without fibre. The first FTTP circuits were installed in 2019...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I knew it was fscked in 1993 ...

        Wow! That was nor only short-sighted, but a very weird and spurious reason. The only bits visible would be the street boxes, something the same size and shape as the BT phone network boxes. And if being installed as part of a new build estate, can be hidden away quite easily.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: I knew it was fscked in 1993 ...

          And if being installed as part of a new build estate, can be hidden away quite easily.

          That's why it's usually a good idea for the developers to contact BT or Virgin's infrastructure teams early, so those details can be worked into the plans. Around that time though, VM wouldn't have been doing FTTP or FTTC though, but would still want street cabs somewhere to fan out their coax. It can also work out cheaper, ie planners would look at 800 homes, x% customer penetration, £y/month revenue and a simple(r) business case to fund the build. Downside is some developers also know that, so can end up demanding kickbacks by way of wayleaves around their private roads.

          T'other issue is over time, broadband has become more of an essential utility, and I've seen plenty of ads for new builds featuring 'high speed broadband' as a selling point. Even though those often come with caveats of their own, ie it's someone's kid who's installed a switch hanging off an xDSL router in the basement, and vaguely followed building regs for poking non-plenum Cat5 through fire stops. One of the reasons why I tend to stick with BT, mainly because in a worst-case scenario, there's usually an LLU option & porting, and I know their infrastructure pretty well.

  7. snowpages

    Fibre Fibre Fibre Fibre FIBRE!!

    At least we can still us the appropriate spelling (UK for an UK story) in the comments!

    Anyone else finding that it spoils the reading flow when you crash up against a US-ian spelling in a piece about the UK?

    (Definitely getting grumpy in my old age..)

    1. clyde666

      Re: Fibre Fibre Fibre Fibre FIBRE!!

      You're not alone. Seven instances of "fiber" in an article about fibre.

      That would have warranted at least a thousand lines of 'I must spell fibre properly' in the good old days. Or even a belting in some schools.

      Seriously though, it does spoil the readability of the article. It's like thumping into a brick wall at 50 mph, fairly knocks you off your concentration.

      Was the article intended to read like a glorification of venture capitalists?

      Of course the money men always have the final say, but at least in these islands we've always had the fig leaf of engineering and 'how it's done' stories being of a lot more interest to the public.

      As a techie, my interest is definitely more in the service.

      Maybe us grumpy old gits are the new snowflakes?

    2. Macs1000

      Re: Fibre Fibre Fibre Fibre FIBRE!!

      My English teacher used to point out that if the English is incorrect, what else in the article is incorrect? Or to put it another way, where does accuracy begin?

  8. Jedit Silver badge

    Altnets

    It's slightly strange to see CityFibre described as an altnet. In my area they were the first ones to get the gigabit infrastructure in, so I think of them as the "main" provider for that service.

  9. aidanstevens
    Alert

    PDF link

    The link in the article is wrong, should be:

    https://www.ispa.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/What_Lies_Ahead_ISPA_Gigabit_Investment_Report.pdf

  10. Derek Jones

    Incorrect link to pdf

    The pdf link is: https://www.ispa.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/What_Lies_Ahead_ISPA_Gigabit_Investment_Report.pdf

    Not that currently used in the article.

  11. MJI Silver badge

    We had a lot of FIBRE laid locally

    City Fibre originally

    Then Openreach were involved

    Our estate appears to be a mix of BT and City Fibre users.

    I moved from FTTC to FTTP, with BT though

  12. AndrueC Silver badge
    Unhappy

    I've always thought it was a bit mad. We already had a thriving wholesale market and fibre is relatively easy to upgrade as technology improves so why can't we just have a single fibre provider and the CPs provide their services across it?

    Where I live we're getting FTTP from Swift at the moment, Gigaclear and Openreach soonish. Most streets only require a cable blowing through ducting but that's still three times as much cable being laid as is actually needed. I've also seen little discussion about how a property that signs up for one Altnet moves onto another. It would appear that the new CP has to send out a team to dig (carefully!) a new microtrench and install another fibre to the property.

    Madness.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      The upside of multiple networks is that many people in a densely populated area will be on different providers with different fibres and networks. The downside of a single infrastructure shared across multiple providers, with no competition in providing the physical connection, you'll likely end up with the bare minimum capacity for an area and much more contention and slowdowns. To have a national fibre infrastructure provider, you'd also need a robust capacity planning mechanism that builds in the options for capacity expansion as required, not when there's a more gov't grants up for grabs. Just look at OpenReach for the example. They only build out where there is competition or Gov't funding.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Meh

        Yes, I agree it would need to be accepted as part of the national infrastructure and incentives/proper planning as you suggest so it's certainly not simple.

        But it seems wrong that we're duplicating effort. Over the next couple of years my house is likely to have a choice of three fibre providers. If I change between them I could end up with three ONTs. And we only have to look at the history of VM to see that it's likely to end up as only two providers - BT and 'VM's prettier sister' so probably one of those ONTs will become defunct. Granted the duplicate ONT issue only exists if I actually do switch suppliers.

        If we were rolling out a gas, electricity or water network we wouldn't duplicate the physical infrastructure.

  13. Keitht1958

    Open reach not interested

    You said by investing millions in fibre well maybe but fiber 300 yards away but won't put it in my property just say soon

    Yeah when I am dead

    Open reach useless !

  14. tiggity Silver badge

    no chance for me

    Living in the arse end of nowhere, low population density, no chance of fibre in the foreseeable future (not even the halfway house of to the cabinet).

    I'll be dead of old age before fibre ever arrives here.

    1. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

      Re: no chance for me

      Living in a hamlet of 6 houses in North Cornwall, fttp @900 mbps - how on earth did that happen? Not that I am complaining!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: no chance for me

        IIRC wasn't Cornwall pushed as the poster child of neglect and managed a huge publicity campaign for extra investment? being a popular tourist destination with poor roads and poor comms, lack of non-tourist jobs and industry etc, ie "deprived" in terms of investment. So, probably a bribe to shut up the Kernow separatists :-)

        I've done my bit to help by holidaying there multiple time, but am fortunate enough to be able to do so on the edges of tourist season so we tend to have a nice smooth non-strop drive out of Cornwall past the 50 or so miles of traffic queuing bumper to bumper on the way in :-)

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: no chance for me

          IIRC wasn't Cornwall pushed as the poster child of neglect and managed a huge publicity campaign for extra investment? being a popular tourist destination with poor roads and poor comms, lack of non-tourist jobs and industry etc, ie "deprived" in terms of investment. So, probably a bribe to shut up the Kernow separatists :-)

          Yes. Then they got a load of EU funding and it was turned around. Then the majority voted to leave the EU because "what has the EU ever done for us?"

  15. Zalaur

    Thats great for everyone else

    That's great for everyone else, what about the rural areas, I just moved to a village not even 10 minutes from a major hub and all I am able to get is max of 34mbps that's on a good day, what about uplifting the rural areas?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Thats great for everyone else

      If you are getting 34mpbs "on a good day", then that's you at the back of the queue! Many places can only dream of your levels of luxury :-)

      On a slightly more serious note, you probably are at the back of the queue, for exactly the stated reason above unless there's a relatively dense population demanding to pay more for better speeds and the local network cables can be easily and cheaply upgraded for an easy "win" in the PR stakes.

      1. Zalaur

        Re: Thats great for everyone else

        I think so, the sad fact is a lot of the folks in my village are of or close to retirement age so I assume they won't kick off for faster internet.

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Thats great for everyone else

          Have you tried a polite email to Swift, Gigaclear and any other altnets? Maybe also your local council who can help get more widespread interest in your area.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Thats great for everyone else

          "I think so, the sad fact is a lot of the folks in my village are of or close to retirement age so I assume they won't kick off for faster internet."

          Hey, I resemble that remark! Some of of us "near retirement age" greybeards quite like having a decent connection! I'm of the age where I could take the just introduced Computer Studies course at school. People of 60 or younger had that opportunity, though few took it at the time. But the numbers increased year on year so more and more people were learning about and using computers from school age onwards and even if they didn't many would go on to use them at work or home.

          I think the trope of "old" people not knowing much about computers or technology is rapidly fading away. After all it's well over a decade since the Silver Surfers term was coined :-)

          1. Zalaur

            Re: Thats great for everyone else

            @ John Brown, didn't mean any disrespect, :)

  16. ezramus

    The competition before the consolidation will mean good deals for a while.

    Cityfibre hasn't yet reached my street, but is rolling out across the city. Got a special offer 18 month contract from Virgin that was too good to pass up (seems they might be scared of cityfibre) with a bill credit it works out at £18/month for 350Mbps down/35Mbps up.

    Though if they think I'll be sticking around beyond the minimum term, when the cost jumps to £57 (!) / month they're going to be sorely disappointed.

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