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Driven by large investment from the major players, the UK’s broadband industry has seen huge growth over the past year, and the result of this activity is greater availability of gigabit-capable connectivity, according to research from telecoms regulator Ofcom.
The spring 2022 edition of the Connected nations study was the first interim update to Ofcom’s December 2021 annual report, based on mobile coverage and fixed broadband availability across the UK as of January 2022.
Leading the key findings was that the number of homes able to get gigabit-capable broadband was up to more than 19.3 million homes, 66% up from 13.7 million (47%) since the last update. Much of the large increase was attributed to Virgin Media O2’s December 2021 announcement that it had made its entire network gigabit-capable.
In addition, a third (9.6 million) of all homes can now get full-fibre packages that offer faster and more reliable internet. This is up from the 21% Ofcom reported in May 2021, and up from 28% in the four months between September 2021 and January 2022, with just under 9.6 million homes now covered. The latter surge, said Ofcom, was driven predominantly through deployments by the larger fibre infrastructure operators but supported by a number of smaller providers across the UK serving individual communities and regions.
Coverage of superfast broadband, defined as offering speeds of more than 30Mbps, remained at 96%, with England, Northern Ireland and Wales all seeing an increase of one percentage point in superfast coverage. Ofcom suggested the reason for this figure staying the same could have been due to the increasing difficulty in reaching the final 4% of properties, as well as the increased focus on rolling out new full-fibre and other gigabit-capable connections across the UK.
Decent broadband – defined as at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speed – was found to be on offer to the vast majority of UK properties. The number of properties (both residential and commercial) that cannot receive a decent broadband service from a fixed line stood at around 506,000 (remaining at 2%), having dropped from 650,000 since the December 2021 report.
The study also investigated access through Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) networks, and estimated that 7% of premises can receive a decent broadband service from a wireless internet service provider, the same as in the December 2021 report. FWA coverage from mobile networks capable of providing decent broadband is available to almost 94% of premises.
Even though access was rising, a broadband digital divide still exists, and there was still a large number of homes and places that do not have access to a decent broadband service from a fixed network or an FWA network.
Ofcom calculated that the number of premises unable to get decent broadband, when factoring in fixed wireless and fixed line, dropped from 123,000 to 99,500 premises since the December report, and those unable to achieve decent broadband over a fixed line has dropped from 650,000 to 506,000 over the same period. Of these, 78,600 premises are not expected to be covered by the roll-out of publicly funded schemes in the next 12 months. Ofcom said that such locations may be eligible for the broadband universal service, which helps connect people who are unable to get decent speeds.
Assessing what the Connected nations report means, Catherine Hiley, broadband expert at Uswitch.com, said it was an incredible feat to have nearly doubled the number of homes that can access a gigabit connection, but that there was still a lot of work to do to close the digital divide.
“Faster broadband has enjoyed a revolution in the past year,” she said. “Such dramatic progress makes the roll-out of full fibre look slow by comparison, and the government’s target of bringing it to 85% of homes by 2025 seem ambitious.
“Despite the positive progress in this area, there are still thousands of people struggling with a slow connection, and providers need to ensure their customers are aware of the options available to them. Many households are still on ADSL connections and enduring slow speeds unnecessarily, unaware that they could upgrade to fibre broadband for a reasonable price, potentially saving money.”