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UK lags behind in European FTTP take-up and average broadband speeds

Ookla analysis into progress made by the EU against the bloc’s Digital Decade 2030 strategic objectives finds the UK continues to be at the tail end of European countries’ Q3 2023 median fixed performance rankings

The European Union’s (EU) Digital Decade 2030 programme aims to ensure broadband internet speeds of at least 100Mbps across all member states by 2025 and to every EU household by 2030, but while this plan is on track, the UK’s similar infrastructure roll-out is paling by comparison, according to research from Ookla.

Citing the EU’s Broadband coverage in Europe 2022 report, the analyst noted that while the ambitious goals of the Digital Decade strategy are indeed lofty, the EU was showing progress in terms of achieving that target. The study found that 86.6% of EU households had access to broadband services capable of providing at least 100Mbps download speeds.

Ookla stressed that while broadband services might promise speeds in excess of 1Gbps, the reality is that users rarely experience that level of speed. Yet it accepts that despite the gap between advertised speeds and actual speeds for gigabit services being wide, speeds approaching 100Mbps were far more common.

Looking at median download speeds and infrastructure development, Ookla’s own data showed European countries were making substantial progress in offering high-speed broadband. Denmark, Spain, France and Romania had notably fast median download speeds, primarily due to their fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) infrastructure investments.

Ookla noted that the type of broadband technology used in those countries, and others, significantly influences the gap between download and upload speeds, with fibre-based networks showing more balanced speeds. Throughout the EU, independent broadband providers – altnets – were seen as playing a vital role in accelerating fibre adoption and addressing the challenges faced by mainstream internet service providers (ISPs). Their role was seen as varying across countries and regions.

Yet take-up rates in the EU remain a challenge. With the completion of fibre roll-out in several countries, the focus has now shifted towards promoting fibre subscriptions. Ookla found that a number of challenges persist, including consumer reluctance and the need for incentives. IT noted that a survey conducted in rural France revealed that 42% of respondents found their current internet sufficient, while 37% said they would be encouraged to upgrade if offered incentives.

The report showed countries like Spain, Sweden, and Romania, where over 80% of households subscribe to broadband exceeding 100Mbps, have already made significant progress in terms of fibre coverage. Yet even in these places, Ookla said there was a “significant” gap between what households subscribe to and those actually experiencing speeds above 100Mbps.

The Netherlands, France and Germany were the outliers where Ookla saw more users having “high internet speeds” compared with the speeds advertised in their broadband subscription package. The proportion of users registering median download speeds of at least 1Gbps in many countries was quite low, with France at 1.42%, Hungary at 0.54%, Romania at 0.1%, Denmark at 0.03% and Spain at 0.27%. 

The analysis showed there was a significant amount of work to be done before EU countries could deliver on their strategies to achieve the 100Mbps target. Yet by comparison, the situation in the UK is worse.

The study observed that due to an enduring reliance on copper-based technologies and cable networks, the UK continued to be at the tail end of European countries’ third-quarter 2023 median fixed performance rankings in terms of download and upload speeds. In that period, the lower quartile download speed in the UK was 38.20Mbps, with 25% of downloads below that speed. The upper quartile was 228.66Mbps, with 25% of downloads above this speed.

Furthermore, the UK’s take-up rate for fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – that is the proportion of households within fibre network coverage that subscribed to and were actively using fibre-optic broadband services – was just 20.5%. This suggested, said Ookla, an industry requirement for a focus on selling fibre subscriptions. In addition, the study found that the UK’s high number of active ISPs doesn’t translate to a high share of all connections for FTTP (10%).

Ookla also suggested service providers across all of Europe needed to pay attention to home networking equipment. It cited research showing that in markets where legacy broadband technology, such as DSL or coax cable, is being replaced by advanced cable and fibre connections, Wi-Fi performance can lag behind ethernet. Wi-Fi speeds typically range from 30% to 40% of ethernet, indicating a need to accelerate the adoption of more advanced Wi-Fi technologies and optimise the home network environment.

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