Eight million UK homes can now access gigabit-speed broadband according to UK comms regulator Ofcom’s annual Connected Nations report, which analyses the availability of broadband and mobile services across the UK and each of its nations.
This year’s report comes as millions of people continue to work from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen a significant shift in when, where and how people get online and make calls.
Nearly eight million UK homes (27 per cent ) can get gigabit broadband, which includes full fibre services and Virgin Media’s fastest cable package. Northern Ireland has the highest availability, with more than half of homes (56 per cent ) able to get these faster services, while 42 per cent of Scottish homes also have access.
Full fibre reaches 5m homes
Ofcom notes that Gigabit speeds can be delivered in two main ways currently: using the latest enhancement to the cable network developed originally for transmitting cable TV (DOCSIS 3.1); and full fibre, which uses fibre-optic connections all the way to the home – replacing the decades-old copper wires that were installed for the telephone network originally and are more likely to be affected during peak times and severe weather.
The report shows full-fibre broadband is now available to just over 5 million homes (18 per cent) – a rise of 80 per cent in a year, the largest increase to date. Availability in the UK is highest in Northern Ireland (56 per cent ), followed by Wales (19 per cent).
Full-fibre broadband is now available to just over 5 million homes (18 per cent) in the UK.
One of the main advantages of full fibre over older technologies is its greater reliability. This is important, as the UK’s data-hungry households used an average of 429 gigabytes (GB) of data each month in 2020 – up 36 per cent from last year (315GB), and 225 per cent from four years ago (132GB in 2016).
Continued investment in fibre services is vital to ensure the UK’s networks can keep up with this growing demand. Ofcom has set out proposals to promote competition and supercharge investment in full fibre, and it will publish its final decisions in March 2021.
“For millions of families this year, life during lockdown would have been even more difficult without reliable broadband to work, learn, play and see loved ones,” notes Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Network and Communications Group Director. “So it’s encouraging that future-proof, gigabit broadband is now available to a quarter of homes, and we expect that to rise even faster in the coming months.”
Getting everyone connected
The vast majority (96 per cent) of UK homes can now get superfast broadband, which provides download speeds of at least 30 Mbit/s and meets the current needs of most households. But within rural areas, this falls to 81 per cent .
And 0.6 per cent of properties across the UK (around 190,000) still cannot get ‘decent’ broadband – defined as offering download speeds of 10 Mbit/s and upload speeds of 1 Mbit/s. Since earlier in 2020, some people can get help to get connected under the UK Government’s universal broadband service. Requests for these connections are made to BT and KCOM, which will assess properties’ eligibility for the scheme.
The UK Government and governments in each of the UK’s nations are delivering other projects aimed at making sure people can get the connections they need – including in the hardest to reach areas.
5G rollout continues
All of the UK’s mobile network operators continued to roll out new 5G coverage this year, with around 3,000 5G transmitters now in locations across all four nations – ten times as many as in 2019.
4G services are available outdoors from all four networks for 97.5 per cent of UK properties. But this drops to 87 per cent outside rural properties. And while people can get a 4G signal from at least one network near almost all UK properties, areas covering 8.6 per cent of the UK’s landmass are 4G ‘not spots’, with no mobile network available.
Earlier this year, the mobile industry and UK Government agreed to develop the Shared Rural Network, which aims to improve 4G coverage and help tackle mobile not spots. Ofcom will monitor and report on the progress of the joint programme in future Connected Nations reports.
UK networks stand firm
Broadband and mobile networks have been in high demand throughout the year, with the coronavirus leading to major changes in people’s usage patterns.
Daytime traffic on home broadband increased significantly as many people worked from home. While mobile networks saw record levels of voice traffic during the first UK-wide lockdown.
Both broadband and mobile services have remained resilient as networks put in place measures to increase capacity and manage this extra demand. Ofcom’s data show the number of network resilience and security problems – including outages – reported to the reguulator was broadly in-line with recent years, suggesting the networks have generally coped well during the coronavirus lockdown periods.
Alongside the UK-wide Connected Nations report, Ofcom has published separate reports on how broadband and mobile services compare in each of the UK’s nations.