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Gigabit Broadband Speeds Available to 14.3% of UK Premises

Saturday, February 29th, 2020 (12:01 am) - Score 7,686
3D illustration of a FTTB network for high broadband access over white background, Fiber to the buiding concept.

The latest independent modelling of “gigabit” (1000Mbps+ / 1Gbps+) capable broadband technologies and coverage has revealed that related ISP networks are now available to 14.32% of UK homes and businesses (4.3 million premises), which compares with 12.40% for “full fibre” (FTTP) networks (3.7m).

The data from Thinkbroadband unsurprisingly confirms that nearly all of this gigabit capable coverage is today coming from Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based deployments via operators like Openreach (BT), Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, Cityfibre, Community Fibre, G.Network, TrueSpeed, OFNL and many others.

NOTE: Gigabit speeds aren’t an automatic upgrade, you have to order it from an ISP.

The primary reason for the slightly higher coverage of gigabit vs full fibre is currently down to Virgin Media’s rapid roll-out of DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which is being spread across both their new FTTP and existing Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) based cable networks (here). The upgrade makes speeds of more than 1000Mbps available across their existing network, although upload performance is still hobbled.

Going forward VM expects to reach 15 million premises with D3.1 by the end of 2021 (c.50% of the UK), which means that for a period it will in future end up dominating the coverage figures for gigabit connectivity, at least until FTTP overbuild inevitably catches up by around 2025 (by then Openreach expects to reach 15 million premises with FTTP and many such full fibre operators will be playing in the same urban areas – lots of overbuild).

Suffice to say to say that by the end of 2025 it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if the industry alone, mostly using private investment, had already been able to achieve gigabit coverage of around 60-70% (our educated guess). However the as yet unknown quantity in all this is the future impact of the Government’s £5bn investment to help those in the hardest to reach final 20% of UK premises (mostly rural) gain access to 1Gbps speeds (here).

The Prime Minister actually wants to ensure that every home can access 1Gbps speeds by the end of 2025 and they even appear to be suggesting that 5G and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) could potentially play a role in that. But achieving such speeds in rural areas via 5G seems particularly difficult, given the deployment approaches (big masts to cover a wide area) and use of lower frequency spectrum (to maximise coverage) in such areas.

On top of that the Government’s Building Digital UK team has signalled that their related Framework and contracts for the £5bn programme probably won’t be ready until late 2021 (here), which doesn’t account for any potential delays to procurements that will perhaps inevitably occur. In practical terms the window of time left for actual build is around 3-4 years and there’s a lot of ground to cover in that time.

Realistically we wouldn’t be at all surprised if the gigabit build continued on for another few years after 2025, albeit at an ever diminishing pace. However, as hinted above, there are currently many unknowns in terms of the likely technology mix, accessibility of related contracts to alternative networks and other aspects that could have a big impact.

Meanwhile TBB are today expected to provide a round-up of where UK local authorities are with respect to Gigabit availability.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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25 Responses
  1. Pip says:

    Of the ISP’s that are purporting to be delivering speeds of 1GBps how many supply routers with ports greater than 1GBps?
    e.g. VM’s hub 4 delivers about 980/54Mbps.
    That said how many residential customers have equipment (switches, PC’s etc) to utilise that speed?

    1. Mike says:

      Why would you want greater than 1Gbps?

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      I suspect the point that Pip might be getting at is that the 1Gig Ethernet (LAN) ports don’t actually deliver 1000Mbps (it’s a little bit under but nothing to write home about and you could use more than 1 port at the same time). But we shouldn’t forget that most of those routers are rated for WiFi speeds well above 1Gbps, even if you’d need to be sitting right on top of the router with a perfect receiving adapter in order to get anywhere close to 1Gbps in the real-world (it’s more plausible on the latest WiFi 6 – 802.11ax standard).

      At the same time a lot of providers tend to promote “gigabit” packages alongside “average” download speeds of 900Mbps+. So far the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has not had a particular problem with that, although this may change as Gigabit packages become more common in the future.

      But for now if you sign-up to a Gigabit service and “only” get a little over 900Mbps then that’s probably close enough for the vast.. vast majority of people to be more than happy, particularly since accurately measuring Gigabit speeds is rather tricky. Harnessing all that performance online is of course another matter entirely, as to is the ISPs own ability to supply all their users with enough capacity.

    3. Laurence "GreenReaper" Parry says:

      Mike: I think what they want is to actually get the full amount, i.e. Virgin actually gives you closer to 1.2Gbps raw, but if you only have one wired device using that, or prefer to use it in Modem mode rather than Router mode, you will be limited by the gigabit port. (Ethernet’s own overhead means ~980-960Mbps real throughput.)

    4. Simon says:

      It does bring into play future prospects of home LAN networks to achieve max line stats.
      I mean 10Gbps old enterprise kit is fairly cheap these days e.g for about £30 you can snag an Intel X520-SR1 Single Port SFP+ – 10Gbps Low Profile PCIe-x8 NIC depending on ones needs and ofc the CPE Router.. This is what we should be looking at now if you are one of the lucky ones to have Full Fibre and feel the need to utilise the capacity it can be achieved relitivly cheaply, again, if its what you want or need. Before all this you have to consider other bottlenecks in your network suck as storage read/write speeds. upgrade to NVMe storage array will fix this but you get the point.

    5. Mike says:

      Couldn’t you use dual lan to get 2Gbps to the router/modem?

    6. Ben says:

      Assuming that the hardware provided by the ISP can cope, that could be a number of LAN devices connected to different ports in combination with 5GHz/2.4GHz Wi-Fi. So even though a single LAN port isn’t satuating the connection, with multiple devices it’s easily possible. Some ISPs even offer >1Gbps residential – eg. Bell CA have a 1.5Gbps package.

      I grant you that for those of us that like to use our own hardware it will become more difficult. But hopefully ISPs will start offering LAG on their hardware, so we can at least get up to ~2Gbps out of the connection.

    7. mike says:

      Seems silly that Virgin have gone cheap and not included a 2.5/5Gig port in the Hub 4. That would have been a nice bit of future-proofing as eventually 2.5Gig+ switches will become the norm, and some of us might like to use our own router which may have a 2.5G+ WAN port.

  2. Laurence "GreenReaper" Parry says:

    And yeah, as someone who runs a content-based website, we don’t *tend* to see gigabit downloads from individuals in practice. Even transferring data between servers we’re usually limited to ~400Mbps because the disks only go so fast, and there is some overhead involved in compression and such. And let’s not forget writing it at the other end.

    Sure, if you can deliver and save content from SSDs, or in-memory storage, or a *lot* of disks if your content is sequential, you could do 1Gbps+ – but there’s little content that truly benefits from that at this time.

    1. A_Builder says:

      Well all the stats are that all laptops sold now pretty much have SSD. OK they are usually limited by WiFi so 300-400Mb/s is not unreasonable.

      In our offices haven’t had a single non SSD device and actually haven’t had anything other than NAS (even that with SSD cache) for about 6 years. So we do regularly see 1G downloads of files.

      I don’t honestly think that many people are complaining about getting anything over 300Mb/s download speed as everyone gets that there are bottle necks around.

      As @MJ says measuring anything close to or over 1G download accurately is actually quite hard even with ethernet cables as different switches/NICs have different characteristics so you actually start measuring local hardware rather than the connection.

      Personally I think 900/900 should be allowed as a gigabit connection. But I DO think that it needs to be symmetric to be allowed to do that. And upload emphasis will grow as FTTP hits a bigger and bigger audience.

      OK that might hurt OR but they can perfectly well offer 100/100 connections without having to upgrade anything other than the ECI estate – GPON will support that.

    2. Spurple says:

      You’re limited to 400mbps by your disks, how can you tell that you’re not the bottleneck to some of your users?

    3. mike says:

      You must have incredibly slow disks as even a SATA HDD can achieve reads of 150MB/sec (1.2Gbps), and NVMe SSDs can go well over 2GB/sec (16Gbps).

    4. A_Builder says:

      @ Mike + @ SPurple

      Good spot I missed the 400mb/s disk thing.

      Must be a RAID array of spinning rust to have those characteristics?

      The fist job of this morning was to retire a oldish SATA SSD server with a 1G NIC and replace it with an more energy efficient PCI SSD server with a 10G NIC. The data did copy across the LAN at around 115MB/s (Big B) – although if I had had more coffee I should have just put the SATA SSD onto the SATA chain in the new server and dragged the data across.

  3. Robert Condon CEO Fidelity Broadband Ltd says:

    5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband also includes mmWave mesh technology in the 60-70 GHz frequency band. mmWave is a high density Gigabit access solution for urban/suburban deployment on rooftops and street lighting platforms. Facebook’s Terragraph, Siklu and CCS Metnet are manufacturers of mmWave wireless technology which is being deployed globally as a low cost, rapid deployment broadband solution.

  4. Mark says:

    Once 5G and wireless start getting mentioned then it’s a red flag for some, generally the objectors are surbuban and rural and will try to delay and stop that, once planning permission will be required and landowners involved I suspect delays, 5G has started quite a few action groups, so a more mostly fibre roll-out will be required.

    1. TheFacts says:

      No planning grounds to refuse 5G.

    2. joe says:

      Mast height can be an issue.

    3. TheFacts says:

      Think it’s 25m max.

  5. Rich says:

    I thought the VM rollout was by the end of 2020? Here was me counting down the months thinking there were only a max of 10m to go before it came to Ipswich, and now it’s 22m :'(

    1. AndyC says:

      Just because it comes to a village/town/city doesnt mean everyone gets it.

      Have a look at https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/index.php?tab=2&election=1#12/54.8610/-2.9210/virgin/ which is the map of carlisle and notice the very large hole in the south east side of the city.

      Been told by the lightning team that no infill will likly be considered until 2030 at the earliest, im now worryied openreach wont bother as they have no speed competion in my area so no need to upgrade past the g.fast pod.

    2. CarlT says:

      The VM/Liberty rollout is open-ended. It finishes when they decide to stop building.

    3. AndyC says:

      I have a email that says otherwise.

      Mind you point taken that the front line staff managers dont get told everything.

    4. John says:

      You better tell the team working in the Edinburgh area to stop doing all the infill work they are doing.

      Call the same number you called before. They seem to know everything.

  6. Mark says:

    No grounds for refusal. I’m afraid some communities are against (the vocal miniority are) are very much anti wireless mobile mast, Areas of outstanding natural beauty, or towns within those areas, conservation areas etc. The Cotswold town I live in landowners won’t allow mast to built, buildings are protected, and they fear radiation from masts kill and get very vocal about it.They have stopped every mast planning application since 1990 soo some areas are successful in stopping a mobile infrastructure. These are the areas where 5G or any wireless will not work, a more costly laying of fibre will be required, or perhaps the government will just abandon the areas where the public don’t want technology.

  7. Dennis Murry says:

    Been on 1gigabit (cityfibre) for a while (around 920mbps on avg)
    I’ll probably never move back to an openreach network unless they can match these speeds

    maybe by 2025.

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