TalkTalk now has the biggest footprint of any retail fibre broadband provider in the UK, according to new data, but signing up for a service is not as simple as it could be due to an ongoing website issue.

Mary Lennighan

March 6, 2024

3 Min Read

Addressing that problem should arguably go on the 'to do' list of Susie Buckridge, the Internet provider's new consumer CEO, who will take it into its next phase of development as the broader TalkTalk group splits apart.

Thanks to its use of various UK fibre networks, TalkTalk can sell a full-fibre service to 15.06 million premises, Think Broadband reported, citing data that is correct as of Wednesday morning.

The new data spells bad news for Vodafone, which has spent a lot of time and energy informing UK consumers that it has the broadest fibre footprint in the market. Being the second-largest doesn't have quite the same ring to it, even when you're talking very small differences in reach. Vodafone can get to 15.00 million premises, while third-placed Zen Internet is not far behind at 14.95 premises, Think Broadband said. Its data refers to premises that are ready for service, and not merely homes passed, incidentally.

The broadband comparison and information site noted that checks on the CityFibre national footprints meant TalkTalk is now available in more areas, putting it ahead of Vodafone. TalkTalk uses the Openreach network, CityFibre, and Hull-based MS3 to provide retail fibre broadband services.

It also uses the Freedom Fibre network, but the lack of an online checker tool means that it is impossible to know how many premises are in its ready-for-service footprint, despite the fact that the firm has a Project Gigabit contract to build out fibre to 12,000 premises in Shropshire, Think Broadband said.

While it notes that as such, TalkTalk's fibre footprint could be bigger than the numbers above suggest, it's worth pointing out that Project Gigabit coverage remains pretty scant – 4,300 homes in total, at last count – so it's unlikely to make a huge difference to the overall total.

While fibre coverage in hard-to-reach areas is creeping up, network build in the country as a whole is growing. This time last year TalkTalk's marketable full fibre footprint stood at 10.94 million premises to Vodafone's 11.18 million.

But while TalkTalk is now the market leader, it came in for some sharp criticism from Think Broadband, which identified an ongoing issue with its retail website, making it difficult for would-be customers to understand whether they are able to sign up for fibre broadband. A claimed glitch means a customer that enters their postcode to check if they can receive service will receive the exact same result every single time they do this, even using a different postcode, until their clear their cookies and browser data. TalkTalk contests this claim.

It might seem like a small thing, but Think Broadband describes it as "a major fly in the ointment." Customers get a "confusing and misleading" view of what is available to them, which could be impacting on TalkTalk's ability to sign up fibre customers via its website.

"TalkTalk and its website have behaved this way for some time now and this is a reminder for someone at TalkTalk to do something about this before it turns it a big fine from someone like Ofcom," Think Broadband said.

The newest "someone" at TalkTalk is the aforementioned Susie Buckridge, who was named as the firm's chief executive on Tuesday. She replaces Adam Dunlop, who is leaving to pursue other opportunities.

Buckridge is an inside appointment, having been with TalkTalk for the past couple of years. How long she will hold her new post for is anyone's guess though. TalkTalk announced plans to split into three separate legal entities in September, the consumer arm now run by Buckridge retaining the TalkTalk brand. It has since sold off one of the three, Business Direct, and there are rumours afoot that the other two could follow. Wholesale services provider PlatformX Communications is attracting the interest of the investment community, while the remaining TalkTalk consumer business is reportedly on Virgin Media O2's radar.

If a sale is what the TalkTalk board is aiming for, being able to claim the UK's biggest retail fibre footprint can only help the cause, website niggles notwithstanding.

UPDATE - 17:00 8 March 2024 - ThinkBroadband has updated its claims about the TalkTalk website.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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