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Ofcom – UK Gigabit Broadband Rises to 78% as 5G Tops 85-93%

Tuesday, Dec 19th, 2023 (10:39 am) - Score 2,560
uk map broadband mobile isp computer network

The latest Connection Nations 2023 UK digital infrastructure report has today been published by Ofcom, which finds that “gigabit-capable broadband” ISP networks now cover 78% of the UK (up from 70% in 2022), while outdoor 5G mobile cover from at least one operator is available to 85-93% of premises (up from 67-77%).

As usual, the CN2023 report provides a general overview of fixed line broadband and mobile network availability, take-up and data usage from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which is largely based off data that was gathered during September 2023.

Before we begin, it’s important to note how Ofcom defines the different broadband performance classes. For example, “Decent Broadband” means a 10Mbps+ download speed with 1Mbps+ uploads (i.e. the Universal Service Obligation), while “Superfast” is 30Mbps+, “Gigabit” equates to 1Gbps+ (1000Mbps+) and “Full Fibre” essentially means a pure Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network (these are also gigabit capable).

As usual, we’ve split our summary of the key results from this report into categories for fixed line broadband and mobile networks.

Fixed Line Broadband Coverage

The main focus during 2023 has been the rapid deployment of “full fibreFTTP broadband networks by various providers (Summary of UK Full Fibre Build Progress), which predominantly continues to reflect the efforts of commercial investment in urban areas, but that is starting to change.

The Government’s new £5bn state aid funded Project Gigabit programme, which aims to make gigabit speeds available to at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 and “nationwide” coverage by 2030 (here), is slowly starting to convert early contract awards into tangible build activity across various rural areas. Admittedly, it’s not likely to move the dial much this year, but the impact will only grow.

Overall, the picture today is that the UK’s “full fibre” network coverage has risen from 10% in 2019 (3 million premises), then 18% (5.1m) in 2020, 28% (8.2m) in 2021, 42% (12.4m) in 2022 and now stands at 57% (17.1 million premises). Meanwhile, “gigabit” coverage, which is being driven by both FTTP and Virgin Media’s HFC DOCSIS 3.1 network (there’s a lot of urban overbuild between these two), has grown from 70% (20.8m) last year to 78% now (23.2m).

Elsewhere, “superfast” coverage remains at 97% (29.1m premises), which falls to 88% in rural areas (up from 86% last year). But the number of premises that cannot get a “decent broadband” service is 0.2% or 61,000 premises (down from 0.3% or 80,000 last year). But this is only true if you include 4G and fixed wireless coverage into the figure, yet if you just looked at fixed line solutions then it would be closer to 1% (410,000 premises).

Sadly, many of those that remain in sub-10Mbps areas are often too expensive for even the USO to fix (here and here), but the gap is expected to fall. Ofcom predicts that the number of premises unable to get 10Mbps (decent) broadband could fall to around 50,000 by September 2024, mostly as a result of upgrades via publicly funded schemes (connection vouchers, project gigabit contracts etc.).

Ofcom also provides some useful data on the rural vs urban coverage split for superfast, decent broadband, full fibre and gigabit lines below – split by region.

Ofcom-Connected-Nations-2023-UK-Fixed-Broadband-Coverage

In terms of take-up, some 75% that are able to get a “superfast broadband” service actually take it (up from 73% last year and 69% in 2021) and 28% have taken a “full fibre” network (up from 25% last year). The reason full fibre hasn’t changed much is due to the rapid pace of build (i.e. building at a faster pace than people can sign-up), which tends to suppress adoption figures until some maturity of coverage is achieved and roll-outs slow.

As for the take-up of gigabit-capable networks, Ofcom states that around 42% of customers are on such a network (up from 38% last year), which is higher than the full fibre figure above because this includes Virgin Media’s older Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) network.

Ofcom-Connected-Nations-2023-UK-Full-Fibre-Takeup

Elsewhere, the average monthly data volume per household on fixed broadband connections has increased over the past year to 535 GigaBytes (up by 11% vs 482GB last year). Sadly, the regulator doesn’t provide a similar figure for mobile / mobile broadband networks, but it’s usually a lot less.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Network and Communications Group Director, said:

“The rapid rise in availability of full-fibre broadband is good news for people and businesses across the UK, with millions more able to benefit from fast, reliable and future-proof internet.

When the time comes to take out a new broadband contract, we encourage people to shop around and find out what options are available to make sure they are on the best package for their needs.”

The regulator’s report also includes a few other interesting details. For example, legacy voice / phone (PSTN) connections now account for less than half of all landline connections (41%) as consumers move to either a broadband-only home or digital voice / VoIP style solutions. The PSTN and related Wholesale Line Rental services are due to be switched off by December 2025.

In addition, full fibre providers experience fewer faults. Over the last three years, for both KCOM and Openreach, the fault rate (per 1,000 connections) on KCOM’s copper access network (ADSL) and Openreach’s copper access networks (ADSL & FTTC / VDSL) was around 50% higher than the fault rates on their respective FTTP networks. Virgin Media’s cable (HFC) network had similar, but marginally higher, fault rates when compared to its FTTP network.

Mobile Coverage

The report includes coverage data for mobile networks too, such as via the usual 4G and 5G based platforms that most people should be familiar with. The UK has four primary network operators (MNO) – O2 (VMO2), Three UK, EE (BT) and Vodafone – plus an assortment of virtual operators (MVNO) that piggyback off those.

Ofcom found that between 80-87% of the UK’s landmass (geographic coverage) can now access a 4G network if you look across all operators (unchanged from last year) or 93% from just one operator (up by just 1%). The new £1bn Shared Rural Network agreement aims to push geographic 4G coverage to 95% from any one operator by the end of 2025 (here) and, in the long run, this should also aid 5G.

Ofcom-Connected-Nations-2023-UK-Mobile-Coverage

As for 5G, the regulator found that it is available from at least one MNO (operator) at around 85-93% of UK premises (up from 67-77% last year). The technology has around 18,500 mobile sites across the UK (up from c.12,000 in 2022) and that’s from a total of around 81,000 sites. But 4G continues to carry the vast majority (81%) of mobile data traffic, while 5G traffic has shown around 140% growth, representing around 17% of total mobile traffic.

Meanwhile, the MNOs have started switching off their 3G networks. The number of customers using devices reliant on 2G or 3G connectivity has fallen sharply, from approximately 5.5 million reported last year to 2.4 million this year, of which just over half a million are residential customers with a 3G device. Less than 3% of all mobile data traffic is now carried on 3G networks, with 3G data traffic having decreased by an average of 44% year-on-year.

Elsewhere, we were able to find some geographic 4G coverage figures for individual mobile operators across rural vs urban areas. The figure for urban coverage is 99% across all individual operators (82-92% for 5G), thus we’ll only include the data for rural coverage.

2023 Geographic UK Coverage by Operator

4G in Rural Areas (2022 Figure)
EE 86% (85%)
Vodafone 81% (80%)
O2 80% (80%)
Three UK 78% (77%)

5G in Rural Areas (no data for 2022)
EE 56-65%
Three UK 46-75%
O2 37-41%
Vodafone 27-38%

Otherwise, you can check out the full Connected Nations 2023 report online.

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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
12 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    “As for 5G, the regulator found that it is available from at least one MNO (operator) in the vicinity of around 85-93% of UK premises”

    Is that “in the vicinity” like a mile and a half down the road and out of range?

    1. Avatar photo Sonic says:

      Precisely.

    2. Avatar photo SiC says:

      Sadly many values are bloated max possible or even ‘average’, and sadly absolutely nothing by the real hard facts of;
      minimum guaranteed speed, / actual synched rates,
      the trends by postocode of MGSs year on year, and nothing
      by Geographic coverege, I.e. what is going on across the whole country.

      The cynic in me wonders why not?

  2. Avatar photo André says:

    It’s a very impressive improvement over the last 5 years.
    Fair play to the industry!

  3. Avatar photo AverageNinja says:

    Threatening to split off Openreach from was a master-stroke.

  4. Avatar photo Chris says:

    Finally Reached 75% Takeup on Superfast which should trigger the U.S.O. review. Hopefully the Government will take a serious look at the requirements and increase the minimum standards in line with what people are actually using. As well as the wider Broadband market. We still cannot get a decent connection but because BT says we can get 4g we cannot claim. Our problem is the contention is so bad that although speeds at 3:00am are great 100Mbs+ at 3:00pm we slow to sub 5Mbs which is unusable. If they want to include WISP’s then we need a guaranteed CIR which should be the case for Mobile broadband packages sold by any operator not just BT’s USO connections as currently they’re the only ones that have to maintain an equivalent contention ration to wired connection (although I’m not convinced they do).

    1. Avatar photo SiC says:

      It would be better if there were rules dictating that all the data was reported against teh minimum Guranteed speeds that are actually contracted for then we would know what the bedrock of what is actually happenenng.
      By one set of publicity I fall into ‘Superfast’, our hole postcoide does, but noo one gets above 24M, freequently much less, my current contract has a MGS of 17M, and if I were to renew now it would only be 12M !
      So all these claims / publiciity propoganda does not appear to be honest by contractable MGSs – Why not publish all the values / great political claimed bb progress by MSGs – and publish by year on year, i.e. in some real world cases of ‘fibre’ (fttc variety) thnigs are getting WORSE by 30% from 2022 -2023 !
      This may only be a minority, or may not with out the data being captured – OFCOM…

      Would have been intresting if there was publicty on how things were going to be, e.g. when I started with fttc in 2018 I’d been told that in 5 years that would be fall from 33M down to 20M, and next year by MGS to 12M !!
      Seem like the truth is that some areas are going backwards – and this isnt making it in to national BB Progress is it?

  5. Avatar photo Sam P says:

    If Three switched on their 5G towers that have been stood for over a year, coverage would increase massively.

    Does anyone have any information as to why so many new 5G towers are left powered off for such a long time? I thought it was down to groundworks but surely that wouldn’t take 12-18 months.

    1. Avatar photo No name says:

      It can, too many external factors sometimes.

      Getting power and backhaul to masts can require new ducting/trenching. That requires planning, roadworks, permits, councils etc.

      Its a big job and not all councils are quick to process requests. That can take 9 months alone. Then you’ve got to do rigging, installation and test.

      If you need to rig additional parts not installed on the pole, you need lifting capabilities, probably lane closures and again more permits. As an example, O2 tend to do this for L23 RRUs on new monopoles, a new pole goes up and goes live with 1+8+20, then the L23 comes about 6 months later.

      In the case of three, the pole may look like it’s up but I’d bet money on it missing a part like the GPS on top or even the whole set of 5g panels. The cabs will be empty and the pits below will be fibreless and powerless. Landing the pole is actually the easiest part.

  6. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

    All these bigger companies have large PR departments, ’cause they need a lot of personnel to keep the dung balls moving – you know, saying its so, when its not.

    Memories of the M4 bus-lane and the claims of adversaries in the Iran-Iraq war . . ahhhh ! Unhappy days.

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      The article is about a report from the regulator?

  7. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

    I suppose, with the regal succession, the Queen’s Award to Industry has to be replaced with something new and zingy . . . . the King’s award for split-arse foot dragging ?

Comments are closed

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