For the past two years or so it would seem that hardly a week has passed without a full-fibre broadband deployment by one service provider or another, with more than four in ten homes now able to access gigabit connectivity, according to the annual Connected nations report from communications regulator Ofcom.
The study, which measures the availability of broadband and mobile services across the UK, found that full-fibre connections are now available to 12.4 million households (42%) – some 4.3 million more than last year. In total, gigabit-capable broadband through a range of technologies is now available to 70% of the UK (nearly 21 million homes), up from 47% last year.
In its Connected nations autumn update, the regulator calculated that 37% of UK households could obtain full-fibre broadband capable of delivering download speeds of up to 1Gbps, representing a reach of 11 million premises, with nearly 20.2 million UK homes (68%) able to access these faster services.
Ofcom noted that with households now using an average of 482GB of data a month, full-fibre broadband could better support families who need to stream, work, game, video call and study online.
Looking at the types of services available, Ofcom observed that the vast majority (97%) of UK homes could now get superfast broadband, which provides download speeds of at least 30Mbps. However, more than a quarter (27%) of those who have access to it have not taken it up.
Yet the Ofcom report also warned of the enduring digital divide that exists within the UK. The report found that nearly 80,000 homes and businesses (0.3%) do not have access to “decent” broadband, defined by the UK government as offering download speeds of 10Mbps and upload speeds of 1Mbps. This figure has fallen from 123,000 last year, and Ofcom estimates that a further 15,000 of these premises will be covered by publicly funded roll-out schemes in the next 12 months.
Not surprisingly, the majority of those without were located in the hardest-to-reach parts of the UK, despite increased roll-out in such locations.
Ofcom suggested that satellite broadband could be an alternative for people who do not have access to traditional broadband services and noted that thousands of customers in the UK are now taking low Earth orbit satellite broadband services. At the beginning of December 2022, the government announced plans to enable some of the UK’s most remote homes and businesses to be connected to better broadband through satellite, and has also announced the largest deployment contract in its Project Gigabit national broadband network roll-out.
Ofcom’s report also showed that the roll-out of 5G mobile networks in the UK increased rapidly in the past year. The regulator estimated that around seven in ten UK properties were in areas where 5G is available from at least one mobile network operator, up from about half last year. It noted that around one in five mobile handsets were now 5G-capable, a figure that has doubled over the past 12 months, while 5G traffic trebled over the same period and now makes up almost 10% of all mobile traffic.
“Millions more people are benefiting from faster, more reliable internet as the rapid roll-out of full-fibre broadband continues,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s network and communications group director. “That can be particularly important at this time of year, as online shopping peaks and people stream festive favourites. It’s also encouraging to see more people in hard-to-reach areas get access to decent broadband, as work continues to connect rural communities.”