The rise of the micro-broadband companies

The established order of major ISPs is increasingly being challenged by micro-broadband companies with their own infrastructure and hardware

Wednesday, 21 April, 2021

Visit a new housing development in many parts of the UK, and you’re likely to receive more than the usual glossy sales brochures and price lists.

It’s increasingly common to be provided with flyers or brochures about micro-broadband companies, who have pre-cabled each home with Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) connections.

Internet speeds of up to 1Gbps are promised by these companies, many of whom only cover a small fraction of the UK.

A micro-cosm

Micro-broadband companies are popping up across the UK, often focusing on a specific city or county.

That’s a very different approach to the one taken by national providers.

Virgin Media have spent decades laying FTTP cables and upgrading inherited existing infrastructure. Today, they claim to serve 44 per cent of UK homes.

And while micro-broadband companies will never get close to this scale of coverage, they still provide healthy competition on a local basis.

In Carlisle, local ISPs include Solway Communications and Grain – the latter routinely providing gigabit cabling in new-build estates in and around this prosperous city.

However, if you live in London or Leicestershire, those names will probably mean nothing to you.

Speed thrills

For many consumers, download speeds represent the main factor in choosing an ISP. And there’s no doubt that hyperlocal companies deliver some of the UK’s fastest speeds.

Because they install their own fibre cabling at the foundations stage of new-build sites, it’s affordable and easy to roll out connections across densely-populated areas.

Residents of one city might not care whether the services they’re being offered are unavailable anywhere else.

However, it’s why you won’t find hyperfast hyperlocal services listed on our site – we want to ensure our broadband deals are available to everyone, wherever you live.

And the tantalising prospect of gigabit connectivity will persuade many people to sign up, especially if their previous home had ADSL or Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) connectivity.

Full fibre speeds routinely reach 1Gbps, which will be revelatory to anyone who’s struggled with an 11Mbps line for the last few years.

Upload speeds will be even more pronounced, especially if the ISP in question offers symmetrical connectivity, where uploads are as fast as downloads.

Results may vary

Because these companies are generally specific to small areas, network performance can vary. So can customer support, and so can pricing models.

If you have an issue with an ISP using the Openreach network, you can switch provider quickly and easily. That’s less true when you’re reliant on a proprietary cable network.

Smaller companies may not offer the round-the-clock support of national ISPs, and their economies of scale are likely to be smaller, too.

For many consumers, small local ISPs represent a positive force. But due diligence is required before committing to a contract with a company unknown outside your local area.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!