For the past three years, UK gigabit broadband providers of all sizes and locations have enjoyed increasing success in deploying their networks and offering real and much needed competition, and the latest survey of the broadband market from UK communications regulator Ofcom has shown the steady pace in broadband access in the country over the latter part of 2022.
The Connected nations report for Spring 2023 was based on mobile coverage and fixed broadband availability across the UK as of January 2023. The key finding was that the number of homes able to get gigabit-capable broadband was up to almost 21.9 million homes (73% of all UK homes), up from 20.8 million (70%) since the regulator’s last update. Full-fibre coverage continues to increase at pace up to 48% from 42%, an increase of six percentage points in the four months between September 2022 and January 2023.
Gigabit-capable networks include full-fibre networks as well as any network able to offer at least 1Gbit/s download speeds such as the latest version of Virgin Media O2’s cable network technology, DOCSIS 3.1. Access to these faster services was found to have been driven by the continued roll-out of full-fibre broadband by many network operators, both well-established and new market entrants. In parallel, Virgin Media O2 has announced plans to upgrade its cable network to full-fibre in the period to 2028.
Almost half (48%) of UK homes now have access to full-fibre services, that is an increase of 15 percentage points in one year. Full-fibre coverage is now at 14.2 million, up from the 12.5 million (42%) reported in December 2022. This is 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. Some of these deployments benefit from a range of public sector funding schemes.
Superfast broadband coverage across the UK, the ability to gain download speeds of at least 30 Mbps, remained at 97%. Ofcom speculated this may be due to the additional difficulty in reaching the final 3% of properties, although publicly funded schemes may improve this. Northern Ireland saw an increase of almost two percentage points in superfast coverage.
Broadband services from Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) networks, provided via mobile networks or through Wireless Internet Service Providers, remained at 7% of premises, the same as in the December 2022 report. FWA coverage from mobile networks capable of providing decent broadband is available to almost 95% of premises.
The study found the vast majority of UK properties can access decent broadband – defined as at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speed, and the number of properties (both residential and commercial) that cannot receive a decent broadband service from a fixed line stood at around 435,000 (down to 1.4%), having decreased from around half a million since the December 2022 report. Meanwhile, the number of premises unable to get decent broadband, when factoring in fixed wireless and fixed line, has dropped from 80,000 to 68,000 premises.
Of these, around 54,000 premises are not expected to be covered by the roll-out of publicly funded schemes in the next 12 months, down from 65,000 in our December 2022 report. These premises may be eligible for the broadband Universal Service Obligation product subject to further checks and confirmation by the universal service providers, namely BT and KCOM in the Humberside region.
Gigabit-capable, full-fibre and superfast broadband coverage for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also increased since Ofcom last reported on this in December 2021, but coverage in the sector continued to be lower compared with residential – full-fibre SME coverage is 43%, with gigabit-capable at 70%.
The survey also found that UK mobile coverage remained stable and operators continue to roll out coverage to new areas through the Shared Rural Network scheme, agreed with the UK government in 2020. As a result, Ofcom calculated that nationwide coverage is set to increase in the coming years, with 5G coverage continuing to edge forward steadily and 82% of premises being able to get a 5G signal outdoors with a high degree of confidence.