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UK Embarks on Path to Next-Generation Broadband

The broadband Internet access market is gaining momentum in Britain, with the total number of superfast lines delivering speeds in excess of 25Mbps set to pass the 250,000 mark this April - according to the latest market study by Point Topic.

Point Topic's Chief Analyst, Tim Johnson, says the number is still quite modest -- currently only 1 percent of homes in Britain -- it does mean that superfast broadband could be in a position to follow in the footsteps of first-generation broadband that was deployed 10 years ago.

"We went on from there to reach over 13 million broadband lines within five years," he said. "Now we have over 19 million. It's dangerous just to assume that history will repeat itself -- but it's still a good pointer to what will happen to superfast broadband in this decade."

Point Topic's estimates for the current penetration are based on its market data from the end of 2010. These show there were 175,000 superfast broadband lines in use by then. The majority were for the 118,000 Virgin Media customers signed up to the 50 megabits per second (50Mbps) cable broadband service.

The remaining 57,000 subscribers were getting superfast broadband over telecom infrastructure owned by incumbent telco BT and alternative network operators (altnets).

Projecting these figures forward and allowing for some increase in growth suggests there were about 236,000 superfast lines by the end of March.

"At that rate we should pass the quarter-million milestone sometime between now and the end of April," said Johnson.

Virgin Media customers are all being served using the DOCSIS 3 standard over co-axial cable infrastructure. As of the year end in 2010, another 3,700 superfast end-users had fibre all the way to their homes (FTTP) giving them up to 100Mbps download speeds or even more.

The remaining 53,000 or so had fibre to their local BT street cabinet (FTTC) with very-high-speed DSL (VDSL) over the last few hundred metres of the telephone line to their homes.

In December 2010 the great majority of the BT lines were sold by BT Retail as their BT Infinity superfast broadband service. An estimated 3,000 were BT Wholesale lines resold by over 20 different ISPs, all relatively small ones so far. The remainder were at BT pilot sites for its FTTP service.

Of course, "superfast" broadband is a relative term. Meaning, compared to some of the high-speed broadband benchmarks already set in the leading Asia-Pacific markets (Hong Kong, South Korea, etc), the UK definition appears modest or even slow by comparison.

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