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Gigabit Broadband ISP Coverage Jumps to 34% of UK Premises

Monday, November 9th, 2020 (8:12 am) - Score 3,960
fibre to the home broadband

The combined reach of 1Gbps (1000Mbps+) speed capable ISP networks, via both Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) and DOCSIS 3.1 technologies, has now helped to increase national “gigabit broadband” coverage to 34.1% of UK premises (up sharply from just 10% one year ago).

Until recently nearly all of the new gigabit capable coverage was coming from “full fibreFTTP based deployments – currently 17.85% – via operators like Openreach (BT), Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, Cityfibre, CommunityFibre, G.Network, TrueSpeed, OFNL and many other alternative networks. But the latest independent data from Thinkbroadband shows the impact of another key change on the market.

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

Specifically, Virgin Media’s rapid roll-out of D3.1 technology, which is gradually being spread across both their new FTTP and existing Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) based networks (here), has changed the aforementioned dynamic. For example, last week’s move (here) to upgrade their existing infrastructure in London and Northern Ireland put another c.3 million premises within reach of 1Gbps (total of 6.8m or 45% of their UK network).

Going forward Virgin look set to cover 16 million premises with D3.1 by the end of 2021 (55-60% of the UK), which means that for the next few years their upgrade will continue to dominate the gigabit coverage figures, at least until FTTP inevitably catches up by around 2025. At present most of these developments are commercial builds in urban areas, where D3.1 and rival FTTP networks are competitively overbuilding each other.

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 70%. However, the as yet unknown quantity in all this is the future impact of the Government’s £5bn investment, which aims to help those in the hardest to reach final 20% of UK premises (mostly rural) gain access to 1Gbps speeds (here).

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, originally wanted to ensure that every UK home could access a gigabit-capable network by the end of 2025, but an acceptance of reality means that the goal now seems to be to “go as far as we possibly can by 2025” (here).

The new target is also much more technologically neutral, which means that 5G and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) networks could potentially play a role. However, leaving aside FWA, achieving gigabit speeds in rural areas via 5G mobile infrastructure will be particularly difficult, given the deployment approaches (big masts to cover a wide area) and use of lower frequency spectrum (to maximise coverage) – not good for speeds.

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. But, as hinted above, there are currently many unknowns and often these are only fully answered after the first contracts have been signed (not expected to happen for another year or more).

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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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16 Responses
  1. Neb says:

    Hi Mark,
    Any up to date stats on how much is FTTP and Gigabit?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Added above, but it’s 17.85% if you just look at FTTP/B. The 10% figure from 12 months ago would have also only been FTTP/B based.

  2. AnotherTim says:

    I can foresee a time when the whole country has either gigabit or sub-superfast available.

    1. R Walker says:

      Question is will any of us be alive to see it?

    2. AnotherTim says:

      I expect most properties will have gigabit available with in a decade. However, I expect the remainder will still be fighting for a USO level connection.

  3. Regorimabitbackward says:

    Surely the other question is do we all need it?

    1. AnotherTim says:

      Well, as someone who works from home as a software engineer, I could put a gigabit connection to very good use – failing that a fixed line superfast connection would be nice.

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      The NEED vs DEMAND argument is often superseded by the effectiveness of marketing, which makes a lot of people think they NEED something. But even so, more internet servers are now supporting gigabit downloads and if its affordable enough then there’s something to be said for having a setup where your updates are done in seconds or minutes, rather than hours.

      However, often the focus on gigabit speeds overlooks the real prize, which stems from an underlying improvement in the physical network infrastructure (better reliability and future proofing etc.). The fact you can choose 1Gbps means that you can also choose other speeds (for less money) below that, which you might not have been able to do before.

    3. GNewton says:

      “as someone who works from home as a software engineer”

      Well, for professional software engineers, even FTTP services will be often be insufficient because most fibre providers don’t offer symmetric services. Upload speeds are often overlooked!

      Also, a meagre 17.85% fibre coverage is still evidence of how far behind this country truly is, nothing to be proud of. As long as fibre access isn’t treated like a utility this country will remain a backwards place for quite some time to come. The cherry-picking approach which favors certain places only hasn’t been the right approach.

    4. AnotherTim says:

      I agree that upload can be important too – I no longer use ADSL2+ at all because the upload rate is unusable. 4G is faster, but variable latency causes its own problems. But as you point out, the emphasis is given to download speed – upload speed, latency, etc. are not treated as being important.

  4. R Walker says:

    It would be an interesting graph of available bandwidth against actual usage for households.
    I’m guessing most connections are not used anywhere near to capacity if at all, which is what the ISP’s want

    1. Regorimabitbackward says:

      I agree even though gigabits speeds could be available in your area you don’t always need it there are websites which can advise how much bandwidth you require and I would suggest it is very rare you will require gigabyte speed but if an isp has the capacity that has to be good for the future but for now I think most people would like reasonable speed and stability at a fair price and choice of suppliers

  5. Mark botfield says:

    I wish, live on the outskirts of a large town but still copper and max 20meg with less than a meg upload! Even though broadband checker says 68meg, openreach confirmed max 20, a d 0 plans to upgrade our whole street anytime soon apparently

    1. Mark says:

      Cheer up there’s plenty with a lot less than you, and would love to swap I bet!

  6. Ks says:

    Goal should be everyone in UK should get gigabit internet anything less than this is completely political, biased, irresponsible and selfish

  7. JONATHON crispin Saunders says:

    The UK is so far behind so called 3rd world counties when it comes to internet and 15 years behind the leaders , get used to it

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