UK gigabit maintains steady progress

Latest study of UK communications market from national regulator finds access to gigabit broadband and 5G mobile coverage has risen over past 12 months

The steady roll-out of gigabit broadband throughout the UK has been revealed in a market update from UK communications regulator Ofcom, which has found eight in 10 of the four nations’ 24 million homes are now able to get gigabit-capable broadband, up from 78% the same time last year.

In addition, the Connected Nations spring update found UK mobile coverage has also continued to improve, with 92% of UK premises now able to get a 5G signal outdoors from at least one mobile network operator, up from 82% in the space of a year.

Looking first at fixed broadband, the figures from the Connected Nations report, based on fixed broadband availability and mobile coverage in the UK as of January 2024, showed 62% of households in the UK – 18.7 million homes – can access full-fibre broadband.

This marks a significant increase from 48% year on year as full-fibre technology is rapidly rolled out across the UK. It also represents an increase of five percentage points in the four months between September 2023 and January 2024.

Superfast broadband coverage across the UK – defined as access to a connection of 30 Mbps or more – remains at 97%.

Given previous Connected Nation reports have shown the dangers of a possible digital divide between those with access to gigabit networks and services and those with access to “decent” connections, the good news emerging from the current update is that there has been steady progress in reducing the number of premises unable to get “decent” broadband, defined by the government as download speeds of at least 10 Mbps and upload speeds of 1 Mbps. This fell from 68,000 to 57,000 over the past year.

With regard to mobile, the study found coverage remains stable for 4G, with around 93% of the UK landmass predicted to have good outdoor 4G coverage from at least one operator. This area includes nearly all the premises in the UK. 5G coverage has also remained steady over the previous four months, with around 92% of premises being able to get a 5G signal outdoors from at least one mobile network operator.

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Industry analysis of the updated Connected Nations report has been generally positive, but with a caveat that there is still work to be done by the industry, and that it should not rest on its laurels.

“It’s promising to see the increase in fast and reliable gigabit-capable broadband connection, yet four in 10 homes still do not have access to full-fibre broadband,” said Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at price comparison firm “With a growing involvement in our everyday lives, access to this service simply cannot be overlooked as an area for improvement.

“When it comes to mobile coverage, the level of good outdoor 4G and 5G accessibility is encouraging, but Ofcom reports also suggest there are some areas of the UK, particularly rural areas, that do not yet have 4G mobile coverage,” he added.

“Uswitch’s own research even suggests that over 15 million Brits aren’t aware that 3G is being phased out, putting a small group of those with older devices at risk of disconnection,” said Doku. “Equally, the roll-out of 4G in ‘partial not spot’ areas – those with patchy connection – looks likely to be delayed. The future of connectivity in the UK is looking bright, but it’s vital that the industry doesn’t take its foot off the gas pedal.”

Alex Tofts, broadband expert at Broadband Genie, added: “It is encouraging to see the number of homes able to access gigabit-capable broadband reaching a new milestone, with 80% of homes having these faster speeds available to them.

“While this is positive news, it is still worth bearing in mind that full-fibre broadband connectivity stands at 62% – far behind countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands,” he continued. “The elephant in the room is that just because the infrastructure is in place, that does not mean the demand reflects this.

“There are still barriers to uptake, including cost and confusing language and terminology in advertising campaigns,” said Tofts. “The bar for what Ofcom deems to be ‘decent’ broadband at 10Mbps is unacceptable for the average household in 2024. Ofcom needs to update the Universal Service Obligation to align it with current and future digital demands.”

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