Superfast takes over in the UK as broadband subscribers grow.

July 4, 2013   |   Oliver Johnson

Superfast takes over as broadband subscribers grow;
Demand for higher bandwidths is spreading through the UK and driving take-up of top tier tariffs

Superfast broadband services delivering 30 megabits a second or more now account for 20% of the consumer market in the UK.

“Virgin Media has had the most bandwidth in the market for the longest of the major ISPs. They have seen high end services, over 30 megabits a second, go from ten percent of their subscriber base to almost sixty percent in the last two years,” says Oliver Johnson, Chief Executive at Point Topic.

Virgin took a conscious decision to upgrade their subscribers to higher bandwidths as part of their services which certainly influences the shift but it’s not the only evidence that superfast is gaining traction in the UK.

Total superfast subscriptions in the UK passed four million in April and are now likely to be more than 20% of the residential market as BT continues its own next generation access and the unbundling companies like Sky and TalkTalk shift their marketing into high gear.

Consumers are starting to switch on to the benefits of more bandwidth and the subscription pricing is coming into range for many of them.

The data is taken from Point Topic’s services on global and UK statistics which have tracked the evolution of broadband for fifteen years.

Where is the growth?

There are a number of fixed networks that deliver superfast bandwidths through the UK and more are coming.

Despite issues with the Broadband Delivery UK project there is more superfast coverage in the UK than many had predicted by this stage. BT have been quick to deploy to the areas that are economically viable and when they’ve signed a contract for sections of the BDUK project they’ve proven quick and efficient there too.

“With Virgin Media, KCom, Digital Region and other smaller players like Hyperoptic there’s more infrastructure competition than ever before but it’s true that there will be significant sections of the country who will not have any chance of superfast for years yet,” says Johnson.

Point Topic’s models of coverage and take-up in the UK allow us to represent, from a postcode level up, where the broadband and superfast broadband subscribers are today.

take-up in the uk
Broadband and superfast take-up in the UK at the start of 2013*

(Hi resolution versions of maps – Total take-up, Superfast take-up)

We can see for example that superfast take-up in Northern Ireland is relatively high. This is because they’ve had high bandwidth coverage for a while thanks to a joint project with the European Commission, BT and the UK government.

“You can also see Cornwall, another area that received early stage funding, starting to gather pace as next generation access deployment takes hold.

“It can take a time though. With contracts tying up customers for longer than ever migration is delayed. So you don’t see the full effect of superfast in an area until eighteen months to two years after deployment,” says Johnson

The impact however is significant as superfast net additions now dominate the quarterly statistics.

Has the UK reached a tipping point?

Users are certainly paying more for their bandwidth. They might be saving elsewhere though as the costs of entertainment packages or other communication costs are reduced or consolidated.

It has been a challenging few years to predict roll-out and take-up as external factors have dominated the standard modelling of the markets.  Point Topic is currently within a couple of percentage points for it’s forecasts of high speed broadband in the UK.

“Superfast will be the engine for growth for the broadband future of Britain. The higher costs will deter some but overall there are enough drivers, the most important by far being television, for thirty megabits and above to be the norm in most households in the UK in the next two or three years,” says Johnson.

For those who have the choice then online video, the ‘killer application’ for consumer broadband, is continuing to drive take-up, for those who don’t and may have to wait longer than promised, it can only be a source of continuing frustration.


*V17 of Point Topic’s UK Broadband Layer