The UK’s ability to capitalise on the roll-out of next-generation gigabit broadband is at risk because too few consumers are aware of the technology and its benefits, according to a new report from the Gigabit Take-up Advisory Group, led by consumer advocacy body Which?.
The roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband, with the fastest speeds and most reliable connections available, has been gaining pace. But while there has been a slew of adverts from broadband providers extolling the merits of their fastest services, a report by our Gigabit Take-up Advisory Group (GigaTAG) found that around six in 10 consumers weren’t actually aware of gigabit-capable broadband.
Access to a fast and reliable broadband connection has become a vital part of everyday life for consumers and businesses, and the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband should ensure the UK’s infrastructure can continue to meet the demand for years to come. But low demand for these better services could hinder the government’s ambition for at least 85 per cent of the UK to have access to gigabit-capable broadband by 2025.
Gigabit-capable broadband is becoming increasingly available in the UK – 37 per cent of properties now have access. The UK government has pledged to provide at least 85 per cent of the UK with full-fibre broadband by 2025 and has committed £5 billion to help connect the hardest-to-reach parts of the UK.
The report found that confusing terminology could be holding back consumers from fully appreciating the differences between types of broadband connection – and from signing up to a connection that would benefit them. The GigaTAG research found that four in 10 customers weren’t confident in understanding the terminology used by broadband providers.
Broadband marketing can certainly be confusing – it often focuses on ‘fibre’ but this encompasses a wide range of connections, some of which will only use fibre-optic cables, while others combine them with slower technology such as copper wires. Full-fibre networks offer gigabit-capable connections, but other types of technology can also be used to achieve gigabit speeds.
However, one study showed that it’s common for consumers to believe they are on a ‘full fibre’ connection, when this isn’t actually available where they live (full fibre is currently available in 21 per cent of UK homes).
Standard broadband (also called ADSL) is delivered using the copper-wire phone network. The longer the cable, the slower and less reliable the broadband becomes. Speeds can be as fast as 20Mbps but are usually much lower.
Fibre refers to any broadband delivered using fibre-optic cables to any degree. Speeds can range from 35Mbps to >1,000Mbps.
Full-fibre is the term for a connection that only uses fibre-optic cables, allowing the fastest possible speeds. Other fibre connections are considered ‘partial fibre’, although the term isn’t used in marketing. This is one type of gigabit-capable network.
A lack of understanding of the potential benefits of gigabit connections was also an issue for two in five consumers, with them saying they’re unclear as to how it differs from their current connection.
The GigaTAG report called on Ofcom and the broadband industry to work together to agree on clear terminology that will cut through advertising jargon, describing gigabit broadband and its benefits in straightforward terms. It also found that clearer labelling could help consumers understand what to expect from their service and encouraged Ofcom to look at this more closely.
As well as a lack of understanding from consumers around the benefits of gigabit connections, GigaTAG found that affordability is an issue, particularly for low-income households. Around two in five of those in a low-income household cited this as an issue.
Consumers generally also indicated a low willingness to pay more for their connections, with only one in five willing to pay more for gigabit-capable broadband.
“Digital connectivity has never been more important, with the pandemic highlighting how dependent consumers are on a good broadband connection for daily activities, such as remote working, access to services and keeping in touch with family and friends,” asserted Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, and chair of the Gigabit Take-up Advisory Group.
“Demand for faster, more reliable broadband services is crucial to the success of the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband, and to ensure the benefits of these connections are realised. Better information about the benefits, measures to improve the language used to describe these services, along with possible targeted voucher and discount schemes, will help to address the barriers preventing consumers from benefiting from better connections.”
Andrew Glover, Chair of Gigabit Take-up Advisory Group member ISPA commented: “ISPA welcomed the opportunity to support the work of the GigaTAG. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital connectivity more than ever and while our members are rolling out gigabit capable networks at pace, it will be equally important to ensure that take-up continues to grow. GigaTAG makes a number of important recommendations and it will now be the responsibility of our members, Ofcom, local and central Government to take these forward.”
A Virgin Media O2 spokesperson said: “As the demand for data continues to grow, we’re going gangbusters for gigabit to bring future-proof services to more homes and businesses – delivering these speeds across our entire broadband network by the year end. With this major investment providing greater value and speeds almost 15 times faster than the national average, we welcome any thinking that is aimed at increasing awareness and the understanding of this next-generation connectivity.”
“It is concerning to hear that the Government gigabit broadband target could be missed due to a lack of awareness amongst consumers and small businesses,” stated Phil Sorsky, Senior Vice President International at CommScope . “We collectively depend on speedy and reliable broadband as a key part of our everyday lives and we should all strive for the best possible service as technologies in this space continue to develop.”
“Broadband connectivity plays a key role as an enabler of economic growth and prosperity across communities and can ultimately be the difference between success and failure, particularly for smaller businesses looking to reach global audiences. The lines between ‘home’ and ‘office’ have also become increasingly blurred due to the rise of remote working, while the number of connected devices in our homes has grown significantly in recent years.”
“Business owners and consumers alike have a vested interest in securing access to the best standards of connectivity and there’s a huge opportunity to exploit the benefits that gigabit broadband can offer. As we continue to upgrade our networks, it is imperative that communities understand the benefits of fast connectivity and eventually secure access to the appropriate standard of broadband that will enrich their lives in the years ahead.