Gigabit broadband reaches one in four UK homes

  • New figures reveal broadband and mobile coverage across the UK
  • 8m homes can get gigabit connections – offering future-proof, reliable internet
  • UK’s networks remain resilient despite surge in demand during lockdown

Eight million UK homes can now access gigabit-speed broadband – fast, reliable connections that are fit for the future – Ofcom has found.

The finding is from 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 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen a significant shift in when, where and how people get online and make calls.

Gigabit-capable broadband offers download speeds of up to 1 Gbit/s, many times faster than the UK's current average broadband speed (72 Mbit/s). This faster connection can better support households wanting to stream, work and study online – all at the same time.

Nearly eight million UK homes (27%) 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%) able to get these faster services, while 42% of Scottish homes also have access.

Full fibre reaches 5m homes

Gigabit speeds can be delivered in two main ways currently: using the latest enhancement to the cable network developed originally for transmitting cable TV (known as DOCSIS 3.1); and full fibre, which uses fibre-optic connections all the way to your 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.

Today’s report shows full-fibre broadband is now available to just over 5m homes (18%) – a rise of 80% in a year, the largest increase to date. Availability in the UK is highest in Northern Ireland (56%), followed by Wales (19%).

Full-fibre broadband is now available to just over 5m homes (18%) 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% from last year (315GB), and 225% 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 we will publish our final decisions in March.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Network and Communications Group Director, said: “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.

“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%) 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%.

And 0.6% 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 this year, 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 last year.

4G services are available outdoors from all four networks for 97.5% of UK properties. But this drops to 87% 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% 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. Our data shows the number of network resilience and security problems – including outages – reported to us 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, we have published separate reports on how broadband and mobile services compare in each of the UK’s nations.

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