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EU Reveal 2023 Broadband and 5G Connectivity Progress vs UK

Thursday, Sep 28th, 2023 (10:12 am) - Score 5,640
European Union member states

The European Commission has published their annual ‘Broadband Coverage in Europe’ study, which reveals how the EU’s fixed broadband and 5G mobile networks compare across all of its 27 countries, plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. We take a closer look to see how the UK is fairing.

The EU’s main goal for digital infrastructure is for every European household to have access to “high-speed internet” coverage by the end of 2025 (defined as 100Mbps+) and gigabit (1000Mbps+) connectivity by the end of 2030. Today’s new report, which is largely based on data from last year (June 2022), is partly intended to help gauge the progress toward achieving those goals.

NOTE: Both the EU and UK’s fixed broadband targets appear to be largely technology neutral, although Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) is preferred by both.

The EU’s broadband strategy

This Gigabit Society vision for 2025 relies on three main strategic objectives:

Gigabit connectivity for all of the main socio-economic drivers;

uninterrupted 5G coverage for all urban areas and major terrestrial transport paths;

access to connectivity offering at least 100 Mbps for all European households.

The ambition of the Digital Decade is that by 2030:

➤ all European households are covered by a Gigabit network (e.g. DOCSIS 3.1 + FTTP);

all populated areas are covered by 5G (at least).

By comparison, the UK’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme aims to extend gigabit-capable broadband to reach at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025, before reaching nationwide coverage (c. 99%) by around 2030. The public funding for this is focused upon aiding the final 20% of hardest to reach premises, where commercial deployments may struggle.

According to Ofcom’s latest data to May 2023 (here), some 97% of UK premises could access a 30Mbps+ (“superfast“) connection, while 75% are able to access gigabit broadband (via FTTP and DOCSIS 3.1 / Hybrid Fibre Coax) and that falls to 52% when only looking at Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP). Take note that in the UK, DOCSIS 3.1 largely reflects Virgin Media’s urban Hybrid Fibre Coax (cable) network.

As for mobile networks, over 99% of UK premises (outdoor) have access to 4G and between 76-85% of premises can access 5G from at least one operator – falling to 12-22% in areas where all four operators exist. Now let’s see how the EU compares more generally, before taking a country-specific look.

EU-Digital-Decade-Progress-2023

Overall, the EU27 appears to be in a roughly similar sort of place to the United Kingdom, with total FTTP coverage of 56.5%, gigabit broadband coverage of 73.4% and 5G population coverage of 81.2%. But we do have to remember that this is older data and quite a few EU states have been building FTTP at scale for many years longer than we have.

We should point out that they also report total fixed NGA (Next Generation Access) broadband coverage 91.5% (up from 90.1%) – this generally means fixed lines that can deliver so-called “superfast” downloads (30Mbps+), which is one area where the UK – with its strong FTTC (VDSL2) coverage via Openreach’s network – does tend to excel. By comparison, a lot more EU rural areas are still stuck on much slower ADSL.

However, the main focus of the EU’s report is on 5G and gigabit (FTTP + DOCSIS 3.1) coverage, with the differences between EU states and the UK becoming much clearer in these areas once we drill down to the individual country level. In both cases, the UK sits in the bottom quarter of the table.

EU-and-UK-Gigabit-Coverage-2023

EU-and-UK-5G-Mobile-Coverage-2023

Despite the negatives, it’s worth remembering that the UK’s pace of FTTP build is currently one of the fastest in the world and catching up fast (here), so it’s not all bad news. The UK’s 5G deployment also took a hit a couple of years ago when the Government decided to ban Huawei’s kit, and not to mention that our overall coverage targets in this area have historically been quite weak.

Mercifully the UK government did recently set a firmer ambition for “all populated areas to be covered by ‘standalone’ 5G (5G-plus) by 2030“ (here), although the reference toward “populated areas” may not necessarily deliver a good % figure for geographic coverage – depending upon how they define this. Overall, the UK’s 5G targets are still a bit flaky, although EE alone does expect to hit over 90% geographic coverage by 2028 (here).

The full report contains a lot more data.

Broadband Coverage in Europe 2022/23
https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/library/broadband-coverage-europe-2022

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Mark-Jackson
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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
9 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Ash S says:

    Just come back from working in Malta for 2 weeks and can confirm they have it good over there. The whole island is covered in 5G running at 500mb+ but also saw speeds of over 1GB and 1GB fibre is the new norm (Melita also have DOCSIS 3.1).

    I was at a concert in Valletta where 40,000 people attended not including the rest of the people in the city on a Saturday evening and was still getting speeds of 550MB down and 300mb up. I assume they have standalone 5G for this kind of capacity.

    Really impressive. If I was at similar event in the UK I very much doubt the story would of been the same.

    1. Avatar photo Hamza Iqbal says:

      Considering Malta is only 316 km² of relatively flat land you’d expect excellent mobile coverage and efficient deployment of fibre.

    2. Avatar photo Dave says:

      What was the latency? It’s ridiculously fast in parts of the Canary Islands but the latency is off the scale so it doesn’t ‘feel’ fast…obviously great for downloading and video streaming though.

    3. Avatar photo Sonic says:

      @Dave – that’s probably because all UK carriers tunnel traffic back through the UK so geo-IP thinks you are still in the UK (so you get search results and websites in English etc.).

      @Ash S – I was in Switzerland earlier this year for work and it was the same – 500+ Mbps on every speed test and uninterrupted 5G coverage everywhere (I was in and around Zurich). I was able to work seamlessly on a 1 hour train journey.

      Meanwhile I was at a concert in Milton Keynes back in 2019 and I couldn’t even make a phone call to my friends when we got separated inside the arena.

      @Hamza Iqbal – Not just Malta, in the past years I have been to Greece (various islands), Mallorca, Italy and (mainland) Spain, and the 5G coverage was excellent in all those places.

      I was in Florence during peak tourist season amongst a sea of people and I was consistently testing 100+ Mbps on 4G back in 2018.

      > As for mobile networks, over 99% of UK premises (outdoor) have access to 4G and between 76-85% of premises can access 5G from at least one operator – falling to 12-22% in areas where all four operators exist.

      The problem with claims such as this is that they are probably technically correct: you can get a 4G signal. Often the issue is that it’s useless for any practical purposes. Try going on a train journey. Try streaming music to your car while on a long drive.

      Carriers here are allowed to get away with doing the absolute bare minimum and there is zero accountability.

    4. Avatar photo Ash S says:

      Completely agree with @Sonic the ping isn’t really a true test as everything would ping back to the UK and then back to Malta

      Regardless of Malta being small and flat, 40,000+ people squashed into a small outdoor square in an already busy city and no real signs of any network congestion is impressive.

      In fact Malta has some of the most densely populated areas in Europe which is nightmare for phone networks, places in the UK are not as densely populated and ours fall apart.

      For anyone interested the network I was roaming on was Melita with my ID Mobile sim, 5G roaming was a great surprise.

    5. Avatar photo x_term says:

      @Sonic regarding Italy there is a simple reason for the good performance but most importantly consistency across the country: in areas where there’s continuous human presence for 4+hrs the electric field limits are set to 6V/m, while all major countries have at least 30V/m if not more. So italian MNOs must build a lot more masts with lower power, hence the traffic distributes much better than all the other countries I even been to. Not all carriers tho have the best network everywhere of course.

  2. Avatar photo Nicholas Roberts says:

    Two old gits, sitting in deck-chairs on the promenade.

    One says to the other “14th Century Britain . . ahhh! Do you remember 2023 ?”
    “Ahhh, yes, fondly. No regular lockdowns, a proliferation of “Turd-towns”, under-investment and populace to match, Square Wheels on cars and 5-G comms for the toffs only. Yes, they were the days, alright”
    “That was the apogee” says the first.
    ” Its all gone downhill since then” says the second.

    Cyprus No 1 in comms . . says it all.

  3. Avatar photo John says:

    This summer I’ve been in BE and PL with my O2 sim card. Depends on roaming network, best ones were doing about 200Mbps at any time of the day with >400Mbps in peak. And that was in roaming where the traffic was tunneled back to the UK. The good thing is that the VPN capacity can handle it, the bad thing is UK operators are unreliable.

  4. Avatar photo Mike says:

    The UK system is setup to milk operators with license fees so they have little left over to invest in the actual network. Then there is also the recent Huawei ban that apparently cost EE quite a bit.

Comments are closed

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