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UK Ranks 8th in 2020 EU Broadband Connectivity Progress Study

Friday, June 12th, 2020 (5:22 pm) - Score 2,300
european union including united kingdom map

The European Commission has today published their annual 2020 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which reveals how the UK’s fixed line broadband ISP and mobile networks compare with the rest of the EU. Overall the UK ranks just 20th for “Connectivity” (up from 21st in 2019), but we do better in other areas.

Back in 2010 the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) set several non-binding targets, although the main “Connectivity” related goals called for every home to gain access to a 30Mbps+ capable Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband connection by the year 2020. On top of that it also called for 50% of consumers to be “subscribed” to a 100Mbps+ service (note: take-up is not the same as coverage).

A few years ago the EC also proposed several new Gigabit Society targets for “all European households” to get a minimum download speed of 100Mbps+ by 2025 (must be upgradable to 1Gbps), with businesses and the public sector being told to expect 1Gbps+ (here). Suffice to say that today’s report, which is based on data from last year, helps to gauge the progress toward achieving all of the above.

Overall the United Kingdom’s general rank is 8th – across all categories of the report – and that’s down from 7th in 2019 and 6th in 2018. The country also continues to do well for the last generation of NGA “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) and 4G mobile services. However, in terms of Digital Connectivity alone, the UK only ranks 20th and we’ll explain why below.


In terms of what’s changed. Few will be surprised to see that the UK coverage of NGA (30Mbps+) style broadband networks (FTTC, FTTH, DOCSIS etc.) has only increased by a single percentage point since last year to 96% (compared with 86% across the EU), which is largely because the bulk of that was achieved via slower FTTC networks and related roll-outs via the Building Digital UK (BDUK) scheme have mostly completed.

On the upside the UK’s NGA coverage manages to put us ahead of other major EU economies like Germany, France, Italy and Spain, albeit behind several other countries (e.g. Cyprus, Malta, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Ireland and Denmark). We also do quite well for rural coverage, but remember to take all of these positives where you can because it quickly starts to go downhill below.


The UK may be doing reasonably well for NGA, but we remain weak where “gigabit-capable” (1000Mbps+) broadband networks are concerned. In fairness, deployments of “full fibre” (FTTP) services have been rapidly ramping-up over the past couple of years (2020 Summary of Full Fibre Progress), but these are inherently more expensive and slower to build (i.e. it’s hard to catch rivals that have been building at pace for a lot longer).

Sadly this time around the EU has changed their definitions and only gives us a single illustration for fixed Very High Capacity Networks (VHCNs), which must be provided either via Fibre-to-the-Premises or DOCSIS 3.1 lines. Since this is older data from 2019 then they’ve effectively completely ignored the whole of Virgin Media’s 516Mbps capable EuroDOCSIS network (covers over 50% of premises).

We should point out that Virgin Media are currently upgrading to 1Gbps DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which will be finished by the end of 2021 and that should have a dramatic impact on the table below because it works on both their existing Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) and newer FTTP lines.


One other thing to consider here is that the EU’s data is around a year out of date and, judging by recent progress (see here and here), we could easily have more than doubled the officially recorded figures in this report within that space of time. Meanwhile the Government and Ofcom have been busy making various changes (examples here and here) to help fuel such deployments.

Another potential problem area with FTTP progress is that it won’t shift the dial much for VHCN coverage, at least not for awhile, which is simply because a lot of the full fibre networks going in to the ground today are expected to overbuild Virgin Media’s existing network and that of rival fibre providers. But this may change once deployments to suburban and rural areas kick into a higher gear a little further down the road.

The Government have of course announced a public investment of £5bn (here), which aims to help spread “gigabit-capable” broadband networks to every home across the United Kingdom by the end of 2025 (funding is focused on the final 20% of premises in harder to reach locations, such as rural areas). But it’ll be another year or so before that gets properly rolling.

Elsewhere 4G coverage in the UK stands at 99% of households, which compares with an EU average of 95%, although this is NOT the same measure as geographic coverage. Likewise the UK’s 5G readiness score is 23%, which compares with the EU on 21%. In fairness the UK was one of the first countries to start commercial deployments of 5G, but the on-going dispute over Huawei’s position in the market could delay deployments.


2020 Digital Economy and Society Index 2020 (DESI)

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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.
Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Nighjel Farrajh says:


    1. CarlT says:

      Relax, Mr Fartage, this is the last time we’ll be in one of these commissioned by the EU. It’ll all be good.

    2. Archie says:

      Blatantly CarlT’s troll account. The internet stasi have been contacted.

    3. The Internet Stasi says:

      Lieber Fraulein Archie,

      Zis is zee Internet Stasi, ve haffe receiffed your comblaint, it has peen added to our Harchiffes, hoveffer it vill not pe Hinffestikaded furzer, as ve do not like viny little girls named afder degenerate pourgeois comic pooks.

      Internet Stasi

  2. Buggerlugz says:

    Who’d have thought the European commission would produce those results about little old England?????

    1. Whut says:

      These are true figures though UK broadband sucks, upgrades are moving extremely slow.

      Each company produces a high profit but very little is seen in the upgrade of our networks.

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