UK broadband technology reaches tipping point

Analysis of Q1 2017 UK ISP numbers

DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem and fibre-based network subscriber numbers surpass DSL.

DSL outnumbered for first time by cable modem and FTTx lines

The UK broadband market looked very different in terms of its technology base headline at the end of March 2017 than it did just three months earlier at the end of 2016. Having been dominated by Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) infrastructure, the country now has more subscribers to the broadband services supplied over Docsis 3.0 cable modem and fibre-based networks.

Active DSL lines fell under 13 million for the first time as the technology continues its decline. Meanwhile customers using the cable modems of Virgin Media and WightFibre, the country’s only independent cable-based operator, have passed the five million mark. Fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) and fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) lines are now estimated to total 7,860,000 including those belonging to service providers using the Openreach network, Kingston upon Hull’s incumbent KCOM, and alternative network operators. With DSL lines at 12,812,000 and a combined cable modem and FTTx base of 12,861,900 lines, the days of DSL technology are surely numbered.

BT Consumer takes over as largest superfast supplier

As predicted in our last quarterly broadband analysis, BT Consumer has overtaken Virgin Media as the largest provider of superfast lines by 875,000.

BT says that retail demand for FTTx continued, with 53 per cent of its customers now using the technology. Meanwhile Virgin Media, having nearly exhausted its existing broadband base in terms of upgrades to superfast speeds, continues to raise the bandwidth stakes saying that all new sales are now 100Mbps and above. It says additions to its footprint via Project Lightning are proving positive. The operator no longer provides a timeline for expected build but still intends to complete its footprint expansion covering up to four million premises during the lifetime of the project.

Superfast additions on the Openreach network remain healthy with the infrastructure operator achieving its best quarter yet in terms of sales to non-BT providers. There are now 2,763,000 customers using FTTx lines supplied by service providers other than BT Consumer.  Although BT Consumer still takes the lion’s share, these players accounted for around 60 per cent of quarterly additions and overall take 36 per cent of total Openreach superfast lines (see Figure 1).

The Openreach FTTx network now passes over 26.5 million premises, and the operator says that its ultrafast broadband deployment plans are on track with 500,000 premises passed.


Figure 1: Non-BT service providers’ share of Openreach FTTx connections

Revision of household numbers changes broadband penetration level

The UK’s total broadband market stood at just over 25,834,000 at the end of Q1 2017. Additions during the quarter were at just under 170,000 lines representing the slowest quarter since Q2 2015. The industry will be watching closely to see whether this signals a more prolonged slowdown as the country goes to the polls and contemplates Brexit.

Point Topic has revised its household numbers down for Q1 2017, lowering our estimate from what would have been 28,363,500 to 27,963,000 households. Using this lower figure means broadband household penetration in the UK now stands at 84.4 per cent (see Figure 2).

Please see our separate spreadsheets, UK Broadband Market Statistics Q1 2017 and UK ISP Market Shares Q1 2017, for the statistics behind this analysis.


Figure 2: Proportion of UK households with internet access

Get access to full report and statistics

The latest broadband subscriber numbers by technology, ISP market shares and emerging trends can all be found in our Excel spreadsheets, UK Broadband Market Statistics Q1 2017 and UK ISP Market Shares Q1 2017, and accompanying PDF analysis report. These are available to subscribers of Point Topic’s UK Plus service. To find out more, please telephone +44 (0)20 3301 3303 or e-mail

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