Altnets are making waves in the UK broadband market, finds Ookla

Ray Le Maistre
By Ray Le Maistre

Oct 4, 2022

Source: Ookla

Source: Ookla

  • The UK’s fixed broadband sector is at last thriving
  • Scores of altnets are attracting investment and challenging the incumbents
  • And altnets, such as Hyperoptic, are putting the major players to shame in major city markets

New statistics from independent internet access performance metrics specialist Ookla show that while the UK broadband sector is still dominated by a small number of recognised brand providers, the scores of alternative network operators (altnets) now active in the country are having a meaningful impact on the market. 

For a long time the UK was bereft of fibre broadband access services, but a change in regulations and the determination of CityFibre to build an alternative wholesale network to compete with that of Openreach has helped to fuel interest from investors and network builders in recent years, and now there are scores of companies building local and/or regional fibre access networks and fuelling service competition. 

As a result, at the end of 2021, 86% of UK households had access to a fixed broadband service, most of which delivered services with downstream speeds of more than 30 Mbit/s, according to UK regulator Ofcom. (Amazingly, 30 Mbit/s is still referred to as “superfast” in the UK, which tells you how much work there is still to be done despite the recent advances.)

That statistic is helped by the increasing number of UK homes that are reached by “gigabit-capable” connections – two-thirds of all British households in January this year – but, somewhat frustratingly, only a third of homes are able to order a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) service, though this is set to improve. 

Many services, of course, promise much faster speeds and, according to Ookla, some of the smaller players are putting the bigger players to shame.

One of those big players, Virgin Media O2, achieved the best overall fixed broadband scores with a median download speed of 116.44 Mbit/s and an upload speed of 20.86 Mbit/s during the first half of 2022, thanks to its upgraded cable broadband network based on DOCSIS 3.1 technology. Across the 146 UK markets where Ookla performed its speed tests, Virgin Media O2 recorded the fastest speeds in an impressive 71%. No other major operator came close to those speeds. 

But altnets, of which there are now about 100 focused on fibre broadband services across the UK (a quite remarkable number), achieved the best speeds in key UK markets. For example, Hyperoptic took the crown in Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester with downstream and upstream speeds in excess of 150 Mbit/s, while in London, Community Fibre was the fastest provider, also topping 150 Mbit/s downstream and upstream. In other major cities, Virgin Media O2 was consistently top of the pile. 

The Ookla report has lots of other insights and measurements – you can check it out here.   

The question now, though, is what happens next? The UK has about 30 million households and very established brands in the broadband sector, including BT, Virgin Media O2, Sky, TalkTalk and now Vodafone, which have the scale and clout to mount major marketing campaigns. Is this a market where 100 altnets can thrive? It doesn’t look like it, which is why the expectation for more than a year now has been that significant consolidation will take place. 

What’s important for the UK market, and for residential and business users, is that at least a decent number of altnets survive and thrive – the market needs the likes of Hyperoptic, Community Fibre, Vorboss, Spring Fibre and Netomnia, to name just a few, to keep pushing the major players and provide a competitive, high-quality alternative because that’s going to be vital for the health and prosperity of the UK’s digital sector in the medium and long term. 

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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