UK broadband competition is kicking in some innovation

via Flickr ©  Wesley Fryer (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © Wesley Fryer (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Just two years ago it was generally agreed that the UK’s broadband scene needed improvement
  • One pandemic and one government cash incentive later, there is no lack of fibre build activity
  • And now we’re seeing signs that the new players will create a real competitive market for broadband services rather than just a series of ‘me toos’.

The UK now has multiple specialist fibre-to-the-home providers - a group bolstered by the UK government’s push to prioritise fibre to everywhere. We have mobile operators who have long been building out fibre too, partly to have an iron in the fire to ensure they can negotiate reasonable backhaul pricing from other fibre providers. Then there is fixed wireless access (FWA - including 4G/5G-based), now considered a very viable approach (more on that below)  And, last - and quite possibly least - there’s the broadband satellite hoisters with their plans for thousands of ‘birds’ to fill in any broadband gaps. 

Given that profusion of players having turned what was so recently a UK broadband famine into what appears to be fast becoming a feast, are we about to see some serious differentiation? Not just broadband but broadband with bells on, broadband with bells off, extra expensive; innovative new technology, innovative old technology. This is what is supposed to happen when a market gets crowded, even if the differences are mostly marketing-driven and much of the network build is still on the way. 

There’s even a new set of technologies sitting in the cloud which might help diversity and speed  service deployment. It’s early days, but cloud-based network-as-a-service players aim to add the necessary agility to make near instant networks in the cloud by pulling all the cloud-based elements together via an intelligent platform, with one of their number, Alkira, having been selected by Microsoft as a strategic partner . 

There were at least two signs of innovation announced this week. The UK’s former SSE Enterprise Telecoms, now named Neos Networks, claims it’s hit an under-served sweet spot in the UK data access market with sub 1Gbps ethernet services for sites and applications that can’t justify multi-gigabit access services but have outgrown common or garden residential broadband services with their lower service guarantees. It’s dubbed its technical solution EoFTTx (ethernet over fibre to the whatever) and is designed so that users in businesses or public organisations can get access to Ethernet services at lower speeds and lower prices. Neos Networks predicts that as the UK government looks to hit 85% of premises with access to fibre by 2025, Ethernet over FTTx will become a critical component to meet this target.

It says that it will utilise its own fibre network as well as the access product from BT broadband provision division Openreach to deploy Ethernet over FTTx via Ethernet over fibre to the cabinet (EoFTTC) and Ethernet over fibre to the premise (EoFTTP). It will continue to provide both copper and fibre services, and should full fibre services be available in a region, it will always be offered in the first instance. See this article for more information… 

Adtran says Internet access provider, Talk Straight, is to use Adtran’s MetNet 60G solution to create gigabit broadband connectivity in rural regions of the UK. The ISP tested the mmWave fixed wireless access (FWA) solution as part of a proof of concept that could quickly and cost-effectively extend gigabit symmetric broadband services beyond the reach of existing fibre networks. There’s more information available in this articleTalk Straight says it will expand its concept into a formal deployment to reach more locations in the UK.

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