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Small businesses bask in broadband benefits as UK full-fibre reaches 11 million homes

As more SMEs shift towards hybrid working, better broadband becomes a priority. Studies from research firm and UK comms regulator show full-fibre availability is on the increase, with almost two in five able to access services

With even former cabinet ministers pointing out that the industry is an undoubted success for a country in the grips of a cost-of-living crisis, the rapidly increasing extent and growth of the UK gigabit broadband market has been revealed by two surveys from Ofcom and Point Topic.

Each survey shows that the availability of gigabit full-fibre connectivity is fast approaching the 40% market, jumping by more than 50% in a year.

In its Connected Nations autumn update, the UK’s communications and broadcast UK regulator calculated that 37% of UK households can now get full-fibre broadband capable of delivering download speeds of up to 1 Gbps, representing a reach of 11 million premises. For its survey, Ofcom took data from 58 fixed line operators and 26 fixed wireless access providers – such as wireless internet service providers and mobile network operators – to compile availability figures as of May 2022.

The availability of broadband capable of delivering gigabit speeds was found to have continued to improve at a rapid pace, with nearly 20.2 million UK homes (68%) now able to access these faster services, up from 19.3 million homes (66%) reported in the regulator’s update in spring 2022.

This was said to have been driven by the continued roll-out of full-fibre broadband by many network operators, both wel- established and new market entrants. The study noted that Virgin Media O2’s upgrade programme has concluded, and the rate of growth of this coverage metric has slowed compared with deployment in the previous period.

More than a third (37%) of homes have access to full-fibre services, with coverage at just over 11 million, up from 9.6 million (33%) reported in spring 2022. This growth was driven predominantly through deployments by the larger infrastructure operators, but supported by a number of smaller providers across the UK serving individual communities and regions. Some of these deployments benefit from a range of public sector funding schemes such as those recently announced in Dorset and Teesside.

Superfast broadband coverage across the UK – that is, offering a download speed of 30 Mbps or more – remained at 96%, with Northern Ireland seeing an increase of a percentage point in superfast coverage.

In an encouraging sign that the broadband digital divide may be getting smaller, the number of premises unable to get decent broadband – when factoring in fixed wireless and fixed line – dropped from 99,500 to 83,000 premises since Ofcom’s spring update and those unable to achieve decent broadband over a fixed line has increased from 506,0001 to 513,000 over the same period.

In addition to surveying home connections, Ofcom also studied roll outs among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Around a third of SMEs (31%) with broadband connection think such connectivity has become even more important since the start of the pandemic.

Of the SMEs switching a communications service in the past two years, the study found that a quarter did so with finding a cheaper deal was the main reason for doing so, while those that did not switch cited high satisfaction their current provider as a reason for staying put. Despite the added momentum of service roll-out, the study found that those in rural UK locations were almost twice as likely to be dissatisfied with the reliability of their internet service (15% vs. 8%) compared with their urban counterparts. When it came to mobile reception, this was a factor of four, namely 12% vs. 3%.

In its latest update on broadband infrastructure deployments in the UK, Point Topic calculated that by the end of August 2022, gigabit-capable fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks had passed 38% of UK premises. Overall, Point Topic found that across the UK, gigabit broadband adoption rate varied between 3% and 55% among the country’s various internet service providers (ISPs).

Almost 1.6 million UK premises were found to have had access to two or more independent fibre providers, while more than 800,000 premises could choose between three independent fibre ISPs. The Cambridgeshire town of Peterborough is top of the charts in this category.

Yet the study also revealed that 30% of all premises did not have access to gigabit capable broadband. This figure was 48% in Wales and 48% in Scotland. Moreover, in 27% of local authorities the FTTP coverage was lower than 20% of premises, while it was 50% or higher in 23% of local authorities.

Point Topic also reinforced recent studies showing the march of the independent full-fibre network operators – the altnets. As of the end of August 2022, CityFibre led the way with 1.5 million FTTP premises covered by its network. The operator aims to pass eight million premises by the end of 2025, with Vodafone, TalkTalk and Zen as the largest retail providers using its network.

Hyperoptic had the second largest independent FTTP network, with just over 700,000 premises passed and a plan is to cover two million homes by the end of 2023, while London and Home Counties provider Community Fibre was a strong third with almost the same amount of premises passed, followed by GNetwork with almost 400,000. Gigaclear and YouFibre were found to be approaching a quarter of a million premises. According to its study, Point Topic saw YouFibre and CityFibre claiming the largest growth in premises passed since April 2022.

Read more about UK gigabit broadband

  • British broadband boosted as altnet Swish Fibre signals long-term ambition to become a national broadband provider with the launch of a new Yorkshire subsidiary, while Bath-based full-fibre provider Truespeed claims step-change in its mission to bring the south-west out of the digital slow lane in partnership with Adtran to enhance network with XGS-PON technology.
  • Full-fibre gathers pace as East Sussex-based altnet spreads Lightning its wings across coastal regions of southern England with fibre offer into two neighbouring counties, as leading independent provider CityFibre lands in Hartlepool.
  • Giganet takes Cuckoo under wing to further full-fibre ambitions in acquisition of full-fibre ISP described as marking a meeting of minds at a time when gigabit broadband consumers deserve more from the internet.
  • London and South of England fibre broadband provider Community Fibre expands out of consumer-focused sweet spot and claims new benchmark for gigabit business connectivity package. 

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