Ofcom: Full fibre reaches 8m UK homes
December 16, 2021
By Colin Mann
Full-fibre broadband is now available to more than 8 million UK homes, as rollout accelerates, according to regulator Ofcom’s annual Connected Nations report on the availability of broadband and mobile services across the UK.
It reveals that the rollout of future-proof, full-fibre technology is accelerating at its fastest ever rate. More than 8 million homes (28 per cent) can now get full-fibre broadband – an increase of 3 million properties in the last year.
In 2021, 750,000 homes upgraded to faster, more reliable full-fibre services, taking the number of properties connected to nearly two million. But these homes still represent less than a quarter (24 per cent) of those to which full-fibre upgrades are available.
Full fibre can better support data-hungry households where family members need to stream, work, game, video-call and study online at the same time. In a year when many people continue to work from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, average monthly data use grew to 453 GB per connection – more than treble the level of five years ago (132 GB).
Around 123,000 homes (0.4 per cent of the UK) still do not have access to a ‘decent’ broadband connection – defined as offering download speeds of 10 Mbit/s and upload speeds of 1 Mbit/s. At this speed, it could take up to an hour and a half to download an HD film.
The UK Government and governments in each of the UK nations continue to deliver projects aimed at making sure people in the hardest-to-reach areas can get the connections they need.
Since its launch in March 2020, orders have been placed under the Government’s universal broadband service that will result in around 6,500 households being connected to full-fibre broadband, and thousands more are expected to benefit from this scheme and others.
“Many families now have multiple devices on the go at the same time for work, learning and entertainment – and the festive holidays can see a particular battle for bandwidth,” notes Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Network and Communications Group Director. “Full fibre is helping meet those demands, with millions more benefitting from faster speeds and more reliable connections. But some homes in hard-to-reach areas still struggle to get decent broadband, so there’s more work to do to make sure these communities get the connections they need.”
The rollout of 5G mobile continues to make swift progress, and for the first time, Ofcom has published 5G coverage data.
Ofcom estimates that around half of UK properties are in areas where 5G is available outside from at least one mobile network operator. Take-up of 5G-enabled handsets has increased substantially, from just 800,000 last year to more than six million in 2021.
Although doubling in the last year, 5G traffic still accounts for a relatively small proportion of overall mobile data traffic at 3 per cent, with 4G remaining the dominant technology at 91 per cent.
Overall, mobile data consumption increased by 37 per cent in the last year.
By September 2021, Gigabit-capable broadband was available to 13.7 million homes (47 per cent). This includes full-fibre and upgraded cable networks that are capable of delivering download speeds of 1Gbit/s or higher. This figure that has since further increased following Virgin Media O2 completing the upgrade of its network.
Ofcom estimates that 5G is available from at least one mobile network operator in the vicinity of 42 per cent to 57 per cent of premises. The range is based on the information provided by operators and informed by its own measurement work.
“The building of full fibre to an additional three million homes in a single year is a significant milestone for the UK, and we’re proud to have delivered over three-quarters of that increase,” declared Mark Shurmer, Managing Director of Regulatory Affairs, Openreach. “Over eight million homes now have access to full fibre, but there’s much more to do,” he admitted.
“We’re fully focused on accelerating our own high quality build to four million per year, bringing the country’s most reliable broadband technology to 25 million premises and across urban and rural areas in equal measure,” he confirmed.
“However, there remains around 12 million homes and businesses that could order a better broadband service over our network today. As always, we’d encourage people to check our website and discover what might be on offer in their area,” he added.
Paul Stobart, CEO at Zen Internet, described the milestone as “extremely exciting” and a positive move in the right direction. “Deemed the gold rush decade, the 2020s will see the full fibre frenzy continue across the nation and the next two years will be absolutely pivotal for connectivity in the home. And by 2030, everyone will have made the switch to full fibre,” he predicted.
“At Zen, we are currently working closely on our nationwide rollout to ensure more cities are ahead of the curve and can access an award-winning full fibre service delivered over both CityFibre’s and Openreach’s infrastructure. We want to inspire and help people across the UK take control of their full fibre journey and Internet connectivity, which will unlock the power of sharing, learning, and communication for years to come.”
“We need the government and network providers to work together to help address this digital divide we’re seeing across the UK,” stated Phil Sorsky, Senior VP International at CommScope. “The pandemic highlighted just how important fast broadband was to everyone – from working from home and running businesses, to educating young people remotely. The video calls of tomorrow will be 8K quality – but we will only be able to benefit if it is underpinned by fast broadband,” he argued.
“Today’s news shows there’s still a long way to go when it comes to broadband rollout. Investment in the digital transformation of our country is important because it will have long term and far-reaching benefits for us all – both economically and socially. Continuing to rollout fibre and build the infrastructure to supply fast, reliable connectivity to homes across the UK will ultimately underpin our efforts to build back better from the pandemic and help in the government’s aim to ‘level up’ our economy,” he concluded.