10 months ago

Is There a North-South Divide in Britain’s Full Fibre Network?

In July 2023, Openreach got 11 million properties connected to the UK’s Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) network. Openreach, which manages the country’s broadband, has reached this milestone on the journey to its ambitious target of supplying full fibre connections to 25 million homes and businesses by December 2026.

In this article, we explain the plan to transform the existing telecoms infrastructure, explore the regional data and examine the progress Britain is making toward broadening its network.

What is Openreach’s Plan?

Openreach’s heavily publicised plan to provide 25 million premises with ‘ultrafast’ full fibre aligns with the Government’s aim of making ‘Gigabit-capable’ broadband available to a majority of at least 85% of homes and businesses.

The management of the existing network involves dividing the UK into roughly 5,600 regions, which are typically villages, small towns or areas of large cities. Openreach’s fibre-optic expansion strategy refers to these regions as 'exchanges'. Businesses can use a fibre checker tool to find out the status of their local exchange in the project.

What’s the Difference Between FTTC and FTTP?

If you pay for business broadband, your connection will arrive via an FTTC or FTTP network. Fibre To The Cabinet broadband is a connection method where fibre optic cables carry the signal from the exchange to a roadside cabinet. The conventional copper phone lines then distribute broadband services from the cabinet to residential areas and businesses.

The dependability of FTTC service generally hinges on your Internet Service Provider (ISP) but provides consistent and reasonable connection speeds. However, since FTTC broadband utilises older copper wire infrastructures, speed can drop during peak times when bandwidth is limited.

On the other hand, fibre optic cables extending directly from your local exchange to your premises could provide your internet connection via FTTP. Unlike broadband, which relies on copper cables, full fibre offers notably superior and steady speeds. Fibre-optic cables are also more durable than copper, making them less likely to require costly maintenance.

Leased Lines are another type of FTTP connection wherein your company rents a dedicated line rather than sharing bandwidth with your neighbours. Leased Lines offer increased reliability and superior customer support but can be costly. To find out more about Leased Lines, click the button below.

How Much of the UK is covered by FTTP networks?

New research by Think Broadband gives us a fascinating insight into how the UK’s fibre-optic networks are spread across regions. London leads the way with 14% of its 4 million premises connected to full fibre. Not far behind on 13% is the remainder of the South East of England.

Pie chart showing data for premises with full fibreLooking at the numbers for premises with two or more choices of FTTP broadband providers, London and the South East are still way ahead with 21% and 12%, respectively. Lagging behind are Wales and the North East of England, with only 5% and 3% covered by the network, and both having just 3% of premises with a choice of full-fibre providers.

Pie chart showing data for premises with two or more FTTP options

How are the Upgrades Progressing?

As Openreach engineers across Great Britain and Northern Ireland work hard to upgrade our infrastructure, certain regions are progressing more than others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, archipelagoes off the coast of mainland Britain still have very little FTTP coverage and don’t appear to be a priority for Openreach. The Isles of Scilly, Shetland Islands and Orkney Islands all have below 6% of full fibre coverage, with no notable works started this year.

On a larger scale, Scotland and Northern Ireland saw little change in their broadband networks in recent months. In England, Openreach appears to be going at least some way to closing the North-South divide by making significant improvements in the North West and West Midlands. Approximately 2.3% and 1.2% of the entire network was upgraded in a single month, respectively.

Is There a North-South Full Fibre Network Divide?

It's clear that the South of England is benefitting from full fibre internet connections faster than the rest of the country, but this seems to be due to regions being close to London. The gap appears to be closing, but the British full fibre infrastructure needs to come some way before everyone can benefit from faster internet speeds.

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Sam White