98% superfast broadband target may not be reached till 2020
The 95% target was reached towards the end of January 2018 and then while there was some ongoing roll-out the figures stayed almost static for a number of weeks. The next goal of 97 to 98% superfast broadband coverage is something often referred to in terms that means its a hope rather than an ambition, but pushing the UK forward to this coverage level is very important with regards to how the broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) will work.
Today we can exclusively reveal that we believe from the weekly and daily tracking of superfast coverage that the UK will reach 98% between August 2019 and January 2020. If the pace of roll-out does not pick up and continues as it has for much of February, March and April 2018 it could well be much later in 2020.
A lesser target of 97% superfast broadband has an estimated target date of February 2019 to July 2019.
Superfast broadband is defined as a connection option of faster than 24 Mbps, if you prefer to work to a 30 Mbps and faster definition you can add around 4 months to the expected target dates.
Clearly if the UK does hit 98% superfast coverage by early 2020 then the number needing and able to request USO intervention will be below 2%, how much lower depends on the technologies deployed and while millions of premises of full fibre are being talked about the time deliver them is rapidly running out if the aim is to make the USO job easier.
As things stand today we list 1,040,038 premises (3.6%) with only access to a connection of under 1 Mbps upload and/or under 10 Mbps download. This is a higher figure and percentage than Ofcom has announced from its January analysis of UK coverage of 925,000 premises (3%) and its possible this may be because we totally exclude ADSL2+ from the ability to meet the USO, this is based on what we see from upload speeds i.e. only 5% of people we identify as on ADSL/ADSL2+ record a download speed test with an upload speed of 1 Mbps and faster. Additionally there are going to be differences between the models used on upload and download speeds for VDSL2 where around 1 to 2% don't reach the USO minimum requirements.
In short this analysis is a cautionary note for those who may see the 2 to 3% of extra coverage generated in the period April 2017 to January 2018 which was during the race to 95% and think the 98% target is easy. The 98% is not going to be easy, we have seen the number of VDSL2 cabinets going live from Openreach fall over a cliff edge and while the pace of FTTP roll-outs is greater than in the past there has not been a massive increase yet i.e. the reality that delivering fibre to lots of premises while not technically difficult is still labour intensive and it takes time to scale up work forces and in far too many cases it is fibre to the press release rather than seeing the public actually ordering and using full fibre.
In summary, broadband infrastructure providers are responding to the full fibre first calls but this turn around is coming at the expense of the pace of improvements which are slowing down.
More detail on how the broadband USO will actually work is expected from Ofcom in the summer of 2018 and just maybe there will be more detail on how people will be identified as being within scope of USO and the range of providers or technology options that can be used to meet the USO. If 4G using fixed external antenna is earmarked for the USO while likely to be popular as people with almost no broadband, the cost of extra usage allowance means it may not be loved or the love affair will be short once someone in the home discovers HD streaming and digital game downloads.