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  • Writer's pictureJolanta Stanke

FTTP premises up 7% as North and Midlands see high adds in Q4 2023

This is our regular update on fixed broadband availability in the UK, tracking the progress between the end of March 2023 and the end of September 2023. The analysis is based on the ThinkPoint broadband availability dataset which includes 1.7m postcodes. More granular, postcode level broadband availability updates by ISP and technology, are available to our ThinkPoint customers.


Note: There will generally be a lag to the operator announcements for premises passed at the time since it takes us time to properly track and audit any new deployments, unless the operators tell us about them. Also, we report RFS (ready for service) premises, while some operators and ISPs include premises where customers can pre-order a broadband service.

Key headlines:

  • At the end of Q4 2023, the overall FTTP coverage was 18.7m premises (58.4% of the UK total). This metric was up by 7.3% compared to Q3 2023.

  • The FTTP coverage was 50% or higher in 63% of local authorities (LAs), up from 53% of LAs three months earlier.

  • In Q4 2023, the largest number of FTTP premises added was in Glasgow (+22K), Birmingham (+20K) and Northumberland (+19.5K).

  • Among the FTTP altnets with at least 100Kpremises, we recorded the highest quarterly growth in premises passed for LightSpeed (+44%) and Grain Connect (+40%). Once again, brsk showed strong growth as well (+28%).

  • More than 2m premises could choose between three independent fibre ISPs (including resellers). Almost half a million premises were served by 4 fibre ISPs.

  • Across the UK, 21% of premises still lacked gigabit access, down from 23% three months earlier.

Openreach and FTTP in general

In Q4 2023, we recorded acceleration in the full fibre rollout by Openreach. We found 917K additional FTTP premises, compared to 724K added in Q3 2023, which resulted in our total recorded Openreach FTTP footprint of 12 million premises, up 8.3% quarter-on-quarter (Table 1). This is 37.4% of all UK premises, up from 34.5% three months earlier. In turn, the decline in the number of Openreach ADSL, FTTC and Gfast only premises has speeded up – their number went down by 915K, compared to 721K in Q3 2023. Once again, the largest decline (-783K premises) was in FTTC only coverage, as this technology is being replaced by FTTP. Non-fibre platforms still covered 19.6 million premises in the UK, with this number having decreased by 4.5% in Q4 2023.


Table 1. Openreach footprint by technology, Q4 2023. Source: Point-Topic

Openreach technology

Premises passed, Q4 2023

% of total premises

Monthly difference

Quarterly difference

ADSL

1,377,458

4.31%

-17,006

-41,578

FTTC

16,464,623

51.46%

-327,256

-782,672

GFAST

1,765,443

5.52%

-38,072

-90,488

FTTP

1,431,608

4.47%

+18,815

+47,514

FTTP-FTTC

9,846,235

30.77%

+363,763

+867,751

FTTP-GFAST-FTTC

66,022

0.21%

+9

+66

FTTPONLY

609,041

1.90%

+401

+1,507

FTTP TOTAL

11,952,906

37.4%

+382,988

+916,838

NON-FTTP TOTAL

19,607,524

61.3%

-382,333

-914,738

 

In terms of the proportion of total premises passed by Openreach FTTP, urban centres, towns, and regions outside London and the South East dominate, with Northern Ireland enjoying particularly extensive FTTP coverage. Belfast remains the leading local authority in terms of the availability of Openreach fibre, with 95.12% of its premises passed, an increase from 94.8% in Q3 2023. Among the top 20 LAs by this measure, nine are in Northern Ireland (Figure 1 ).

During Q4 2023, Openreach added most FTTP premises in Leicester (+19K). The city still has headroom for FTTP deployment, as only 21% of its premises were passed by Openreach FTTP and 68% by any FTTP network as of Q4 2023. Glasgow continues to be one of the Openreach’s FTTP target areas, with 15K premises gained in the quarter. Overall, among the top ten LAs, we recorded the largest additions in the Midlands (East and West), Yorkshire and the Humber, and Scotland. Reading in the South East and Southend-on-Sea in the East of England also made the top ten (Table 2).

 

Table 2. Top ten LAs by Openreach FTTP premises added in Q4 2023. Source: Point-Topic

Local authority

Openreach premises added in Q4 2023

Total Openreach FTTP premises, Q4 2023

Openreach FTTP as % of total LA premises

Leicester

+19,066

32,656

21.46%

Glasgow City

+15,212

138,778

40.39%

Kirklees

+14,601

89,263

43.38%

Sheffield

+13,783

162,598

59.24%

North Northamptonshire

+13,523

73,352

44.26%

Wolverhampton

+13,071

29,109

24.11%

Rotherham

+11,115

42,972

33.86%

Reading

+10,779

26,083

33.75%

Birmingham

+10,314

250,638

50.62%

Southend-on-Sea

+10,299

26,751

30.59%

At the end of Q4 2023, the overall FTTP coverage, including Openreach FTTP network, altnets, Virgin Media O2’s RFOG network and KCOM was 18.7m premises (58.4% of the UK total). This metric was up by 7.3% compared to Q3 2023.


Table 3 lists the bottom ten UK local authorities (LAs) by FTTP coverage in Q4 2023. Once again, it is encouraging to see that the list this quarter cuts off at higher percentage - 16%, as opposed to 12% in the previous quarter, as FTTP covers more premises in more local authorities. Compared to Q3 2023, Blaby moved out of the bottom ten ranking, after growing the number of their FTTP premises by 3.3K.


The Northern Ireland LAs dominate the top ten best covered FTTP areas, largely as a result of Openreach’s prominent FTTP presence. (The build in the top ten LAs is more or less complete, and as we see little change in this ranking it is not featured any more). 

 

Table 3. Bottom local authorities by percentage of premises covered with FTTP (any network). Source: Point Topic 

Local authority

% premises passed by FTTP, Q4 2023

Quarterly change, %

Premises passed by FTTP, Q4 2023

Isles of Scilly

1.51%

0.00%

27

Copeland

4.89%

+1.15%

1,764

Shetland Islands

4.90%

+0.31%

675

Na h-Eileanan Siar

6.02%

0.00%

1,007

Orkney Islands

7.47%

+2.67%

1,055

West Dunbartonshire

9.77%

+0.86%

4,782

Argyll and Bute

11.45%

+4.78%

6,641

Harlow

11.80%

+0.28%

4,925

Perth and Kinross

13.71%

+1.12%

11,572

Tamworth

16.43%

+4.38%

5,983

* Including Openreach, KCOM, altnets and Virgin Media O2’s RFOG.

It should be noted that these figures do not include Virgin Media O2’s Docsis 3.1 network coverage, which is widely available in some of the LAs. For the combined coverage data see our granular dataset.


Among all the LAs, the largest number of FTTP premises added was in Glasgow (+22K), Birmingham (+20K) and Northumberland (+19.5K). Once again, the top LAs by this measure were located mainly in the North and the Midlands.


Table 4. Top ten LAs by FTTP premises added in Q4 2023. Source: Point Topic 

Local authority

FTTP premises added, Q4 2023

Total FTTP premises

% of total LA premises

Glasgow City

+21,639

240,278

69.9%

Birmingham

+19,743

283,431

57.3%

Northumberland

+19,488

107,221

61.7%

Sheffield

+19,088

212,020

77.3%

Bradford

+18,801

154,701

64.8%

Manchester

+18,626

177,466

67.5%

Luton

+17,624

38,572

43.6%

Dudley

+16,718

60,110

39.9%

Harrow

+16,292

58,920

59.5%

Rotherham

+15,959

94,920

74.8%

Despite some operators slowing down their footprint expansion due to cost, labour and contractor issues, 31 local authorities saw 10%+ change in the percentage of their premises passed with FTTP networks, up from 24 LAs in Q3 2023. It is good to see some ‘levelling up’ as high growth areas dominate in the northern and central parts of the UK.


Oadby and Wigston in East Midlands, Hartlepool in North East, and Blackburn with Darwen in North West topped the charts with +22.44%, +22.39% and +21.24% respective increases in premises covered by FTTP.



At the end of Q3 2023, FTTP coverage was lower than 20% of premises in 4% of UK local authorities (14), down from 8% three months earlier. The FTTP coverage was 50% or higher in 63% of local authorities (241), up from 53% of LAs three months earlier.

Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) is carrying full fibre network rollout mainly via their nexfibre venture using XGS-PON technology. According to our records, nexfibre passed 537K premises as of the end of Q4 2023. 


nexfibre aims to roll out full fibre to 5 million homes not currently served by VMO2’s network by 2026. In its update on the 2024 footprint expansion plan, the operator indicated significant build across Cheshire, Kent and Durham, with Scotland and Wales ‘also being well-served’. Their rollout map shows planned locations all over the UK, while in Wales the focus appears to be in the areas around Cardiff and Newport.


VMO2 plans to upgrade its entire network (16m premises) to full fibre by the end of 2028. If this goes to plan, nexfibre’s and VMO2’s total fibre footprint could reach 21-23 million premises by that time. As the two companies intend to make their networks available to other providers, they could become a first nationwide alternative to Openreach.

 

Altnets and other independent fibre providers

As an increasing number of altnets are exceeding 100K fibre premises passed, we are now focusing on this cohort. At the end of Q4 2023, our figures showed CityFibre at the top of the league with 2.9m FTTP premises covered by their network[1]. Vodafone, Zen and TalkTalk remained the largest retail providers using CityFibre network.


According to our records, Community Fibre passed just over 1.2m premises, followed by Hyperoptic with 1m, Netomnia with 0.7m, and brsk with 0.4m (Figure 4).

During Q4 2023, among the altnets with at least 100Kpremises, we recorded the highest growth for LightSpeed (+44%) and Grain Connect (+40%). Once again, brsk showed strong growth as well (+28%).

 


Overlap by independent fibre broadband providers has increased further, as multiple network operators and ISPs are increasingly competing for the same customers. (We are including in this category independent network operators (altnets) as well as retail ISPs using their networks. For example, multiple ISPs are selling fibre broadband supplied over CityFibre’s network.)


In Q4 2023, 117 local authorities had three overlapping independent fibre providers, compared to 103 in Q3 2023. Coventry and Peterborough have maintained their lead by the percentage of premises served by three providers, with 79.3% and 76.3% respectively. Among the LAs served by three fibre providers, Glasgow, Leeds and Rugby saw the largest number of additional premises in Q4 2023, at +18K, +11K and +10K respectively (Table 5).

 

Table 5. Top local authorities by additional premises served by three independent fibre providers overlapping, Q4 2023. Source: Point Topic.

Local authority

Additional premises served in Q4 2023

Total premises with 3 fibre ISPs overlapping

% of total premises

Glasgow City

+18,284

100,271

29.18%

Leeds

+10,807

132,127

33.93%

Rugby

+10,237

11,305

21.30%

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole

+10,122

101,799

51.25%

Wolverhampton

+8,936

72,987

60.45%

East Renfrewshire

+7,080

14,504

34.38%

Sheffield

+6,108

9,520

3.47%

Oadby and Wigston

+5,907

7,249

29.12%

Havant

+5,781

12,616

21.15%

Newcastle upon Tyne

+4,092

49,634

34.40%

As many as 211 local authorities (55%) had two independent fibre providers overlapping, up from 178 in Q3 2023. Kingston upon Hull saw the largest gains of additional FTTP premises served by two providers, at +12K (Table 6). We expect this list of LAs to growth further as more networks and ISPs start competing for the same customers. At the same time, some LAs will move up to the category of 3+ fibre broadband providers, while inevitable market consolidation will push others down the ranks.

 

Table 6. Top local authorities by additional premises served by two independent fibre providers overlapping, Q4 2023. Source: Point Topic.

Local authority

Additional premises served in Q4 2023

Total premises with 2 fibre ISPs overlapping

% of total premises

Kingston upon Hull, City of

+11,895

53,037

40.49%

Luton

+8,986

25,733

29.07%

Rotherham

+7,731

29,915

23.57%

East Riding of Yorkshire

+6,379

12,648

7.37%

Manchester

+5,516

7,515

2.86%

Staffordshire Moorlands

+5,359

6,427

13.44%

Wakefield

+5,230

20,565

11.92%

Bolsover

+5,003

5,079

12.72%

Brentwood

+4,897

5,948

16.14%

Barnsley

+3,436

7,281

6.01%

Nationwide more than 2m premises could choose between three independent fibre ISPs. This figure went up by 147K premises, compared to +180K in Q3 2023. The number of premises passed by two independent fibre providers also grew to 921K, up by 216K (+107K in the previous quarter). Almost half a million premises were served by 4 fibre ISPs.

 

Table 7. Premises covered by independent fibre providers. Source: Point Topic 

Number of independent fibre providers

Premises passed, Q4 2023

Premises added in Q4 2023

1

6,307,206

+772,907

2

921,358

+216,510

3

2,028,730

+147,360

4

465,222

+65,336

5

32,590

+10,605

6

3,620

+2,223

Total

9,758,726

+1,214,941

The trend of the growing overlap will continue but the industry is beginning to see increasing consolidation. In recent news, CityFibre revealed that they are looking for five acquisition targets. Liberty Global, the owner of Virgin Media O2 and nexfibre, are also looking at several altnets to acquire.


At the end of Q4 2023, 21% of UK premises did not have access to gigabit capable broadband (either a Docsis3.1 network or an FTTP network). This figure was 37% in Wales and 29% in Scotland. In England it was 20%, while Northern Ireland was best connected with only 5% of premises not passed by a gigabit network. Compared to Q3 2023, three of the four UK nations saw a 2% improvement, while Northern Ireland improved by 1%, as it approaches nearly complete gigabit coverage.



Local authorities in remote and rural areas still lack access to gigabit broadband, with Isles of Scilly and Copeland remaining at the top of the list in terms of percentage of premises not passed by gigabit capable networks (98.5% and 95.1% respectively) and Cornwall by the number of premises not covered (147K) (Figure 6). Given the size of the county, this translates to 47% of all premises. In terms of the number of premises, we recorded the largest improvement in ‘gigabit deficiency’ in Northumberland, where 17K additional premises gained gigabit access in Q4 2023.


The complete dataset used to produce this analysis is part of our ThinkPoint service which involves UK Broadband Mapping at postcode level. For more information check our UK Mapping page.

 


[1] In mid-December 2023, CityFibre claimed they had covered 3.37m premises (3m Ready for Service). In our reports, we quote RFS premises. Also, see our earlier note on possible lag behind operator announcements.

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