‘Postcode lottery’ for UK gigabit broadband affordability

UK gigabit connectivity roll-out continues apace with total fibre-to-the premises coverage hitting 9.8 million at the end of February 2022, but pricing of basic tariffs and installation costs vary across the country

The UK’s largest independent full-fibre platform provider, CityFibre, has revealed it has upped the pace of infrastructure roll-out in the city of Nottingham, adding to the deployment momentum it has built up over the past three years, but while gigabit roll-out continues apace, there are huge differences in the prices of broadband tariffs depending on geography.

According to the study from Point Topic at the end of February 2022, total fibre-to-the premises (FTTP) coverage including Openreach, KCOM, Virgin Media RFOG and independent fibre networks was 9.8 million premises, or 31% of UK premises. Virgin Media O2 passed 49% of UK premises with its DOCSIS 3.1-based gigabit network.

However, in 42% of all UK local authorities, the FTTP coverage was still lower than 20% of premises. It was 50% or higher in just 13% of local authorities. In addition, just over 170,000 premises had access to two or more independent fibre networks.

In total, independent FTTP networks passed 3.4 million premises. Some 11 local authorities had overlapping networks from three independent fibre network operators, while 99 local authorities had two independent fibre networks intersecting. Virgin Media O2’s network was present in 81% of local authorities. In 50% of local authorities, its coverage was 50% or higher.

Checking on the progress of Openreach in its bid to cover 25 million premises with FTTP by the end of 2026, the study noted that the broadband provision firm had chalked up 227,000 additional FTTP premises in January 2022 and 189,000 in February 2022, which resulted in a total recorded FTTP footprint of 6.2 million premises. As in previous months, the number of the company’s ADSL, FTTC-only and Gfast premises continued to decline, with the focus shifting to FTTP deployment.

Yet perhaps worryingly, the study also found a huge diversity in the lowest available gigabit broadband tariffs across the UK, and revealed such differences even in the same cities, towns and rural areas.

Conducting its analysis at the level of lower layer super output area (LSOAs) for England and Wales, and for Scotland in areas called data zones (DZs), Point Topic found that as of February 2022 at least one gigabit tariff was available in 89% of all UK LSOAs and DZs.

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The lowest available monthly cost of gigabit broadband across the UK varied from £25 (a 900/900Mbps service from Toob in Southampton) to £96 (a 1000/200Mbps service from Ecom in Buckinghamshire). Both services came with free installation, an element which tends to bear especially high cost in rural areas, even though some consumers can get the cost subsidised by the government under the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme.

Some 10 gigabit broadband services in the sample came with installation or activation charges, which varied from £5 to £150, with the majority of ISPs waiving setup costs for customers signing fixed term contracts.

With its latest move in Nottingham, CityFibre said internet users across the city are now able to connect their homes and businesses to the best digital infrastructure available. The company has made the majority of homes in the Wollaton area of the city “ready for service”, which means residents can choose to connect to full fibre-enabled broadband services when they go live in their area, while homes in the Bilborough, Aspley and Leen Valley areas are also at this service level.

Roll-out is progressing into new areas, with construction underway in West Bridgford, Basford, Hyson Green and Arboretum, while work in areas such as Lutterell, Bulwell, Compton Acres, Edwalton, Abbey, Gamston, South, Meadows and Trent Bridge is set to start in the next three months.

Once the city-wide roll-out reaches completion in 2027, almost every home and business locally will have access to full-fibre services from a choice of internet service providers. These include UK launch partner Vodafone on selected Vodafone Pro Broadband plans, as well as TalkTalk, Zen, Air Broadband and Gigabit Networks. Other providers are expected to join the network soon.

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