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Superfast broadband: UK rising fast but won’t lead Europe by 2015

The Broadband Stakeholder Group has issued a report outlining its predictions for broadband growth in the UK.

In the report the BSG commends the fast work of BT in deploying FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) and FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) broadband and Virgin Media for bringing superfast speeds to over 50 per cent of the country.

However while the report compares the UK’s “initial growth curve for superfast broadband services” favourably with that of Japan, the UK’s immediate future as a speed-leader of Europe by 2015 is cast into doubt.

“It is important that this relative success is set against realistic expectations – no market has seen huge take-up occur rapidly, and it is unlikely that the UK will reach very high levels of take-up by 2015.”

Superfast broadband: UK rising fast but won't lead Europe by 2015

Chiefly, the report says that the future of superfast take-up very much depends on price. The report notes that the UK’s broadband market, dominated by a big four of BT, Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk, means that competition can drive numbers and availability.

To some extent this is already happening; Sky and TalkTalk as well as Plusnet and Zen Internet are offering fibre services to their punters via the BT Openreach network. Virgin Media has been consistently cranking up the speeds available on its network since it launched, with 120Mbps services now available to 40 per cent of its cable punters.

Another area where the BSG believes that superfast adoption could accelerate is with the rise of IPTV services. YouView which launched this year is being aggressively sold by both BT and TalkTalk. BT ringfencing its YouView offering to customers who can get BT Infinity fibre-based broadband, whereas TalkTalk is throwing open the gates to anyone who can order TalkTalk Plus.

Superfast broadband: UK rising fast but won’t lead Europe by 2015

Either way, the speed and quality of your connection will largely depend on the speed and quality of your line. TalkTalk plans to stream HD content on its YouView box which, unless you’ve got a speed above 5Mbps, isn’t going to look that great.

BT’s YouView offering will eventually include live Premier League football which is historically a way to draw in the crowds. 

YouView and other IPTV offerings are pretty nacsent right now. Ditto 4G fixed location broadband which only launched last week courtesy of Now Broadband. Everything Everywhere (soon to rebrand as EE) has yet to announce plans for fixed location 4G services, but we understand it’s something that the mega-network is looking at.

Similarly, smaller FTTP providers and projects like Hyperoptic, Gigler, B4RN and Gigaclear are providing (or will provide) speeds head and shoulders above that of the UK average, but are only available to a fraction of UK customers right now.

The BSG report estimates that similar ‘BDUK projects’ arriving will “impact the rate at which
demand grows” but will only account for one quarter of the UK in total.

What’s perhaps encouraging is that the report cites as an example BT’s experiment in Basingstoke – an urban area plagued by poor broadband speeds – which saw a surge of interest when FTTC broadband arrived. Anecdotally this suggests superfast broadband will be more enthusiastically lapped up in areas which haven’t been able to get normal broadband before.

We’ve certainly heard much from the likes of B4RN and residents enjoying the benefits of Superfast Cornwall.

Superfast broadband: UK rising fast but won’t lead Europe by 2015

The BSG reckons that, based on current evidence only 12 million homes will be actually using superfast broadband by 2020. This estimate won’t make for great reading for BT, which is promising at least as many homes will be able to get FTTC broadband by 2013…

In short, the future of broadband Britain depends on consumer habits, competition and costs. Superfast services we’ve seen so far are impressive, but they’re not cheap – you get what you pay for.

Right now the pockets of the man in the street aren’t what you’d call deep. What with gas prices set to rise by 6 per cent over the winter, some of BT’s prices to rise next year and Sky’s line rental crawling up, the thought of coughing up more for broadband when wallets are squeezed might be too much.

The UK isn’t the sick man of European broadband that some might think, but it’s too soon to declare a clean bill of health.