All homes in Northern Ireland are connected to an ADSL-enabled BT local exchange

By the end of 2011 almost all UK homes were connected to an ADSL-enabled BT local exchange, although some people may not be able to receive ADSL broadband services, or may only be able to do so at very slow speeds, as a result of the long length or poor quality of the copper telephone line from their premises to the local exchange. In Northern Ireland (as in Wales) all of BT’s exchanges have been upgraded to offer ADSL broadband, and of BT’s 5,589 local exchanges, only 26 (20 in Scotland, and six in England) had not been upgraded to offer ADSL broadband services by the end of 2011. As a result, the proportion of homes connected to an ADSL-enabled BT exchange was marginally lower in Scotland than in the rest of the UK (Figure 5.1 ).

Local loop unbundling (LLU) involves an alternative operator placing its own equipment in the incumbent’s local exchange. This is then connected to the LLU provider’s own backhaul network, and ADSL broadband services are provided over the twisted copper pair, which is leased from the incumbent operator. LLU operators are able to benefit from economies of scale which are not available to them when purchasing wholesale services on a per-unit basis, and have greater opportunity to differentiate the services that they offer from their competitors’. As a result, consumers living in LLU-enabled exchange areas are likely to have a greater choice of ADSL broadband services and, typically, access to lower-cost (particularly bundled) services.

At the end of 2011 92% of UK homes were connected to an LLU-enabled BT exchange, a three percentage point increase on a year previously. LLU roll-out has historically been concentrated in exchange areas serving a large number of premises (which tend to be in urban areas) and as a result of this the proportion of homes connected to an LLU-enabled local exchange was much higher in urban areas (99%) than in rural ones (64%). Northern Ireland had the lowest proportion of households that were connected to an LLU-enabled exchange at the end of 2011, at 79%, while this proportion was highest in England at 93%.