British telecoms regulator Ofcom has published a second interim update to its December 2020 annual Connected Nations report, in which it claimed that around one in four UK homes can now access full fibre broadband.
With the watchdog suggesting that coverage has improved ‘as broadband companies have extended their networks at rapid pace during the pandemic’, it said that 24% of homes were covered by fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) technology, up from 21% at January 2021 and 18% at September 2020. Meanwhile, the number of residential premises now able to get a gigabit-capable broadband service had risen to more than 11.6 million (40%) by 30 May 2021, up from 10.8 million (37%) at January 2021; according to Ofcom, the increase in availability had been ‘largely driven by the rollout of FTTP with some increases from the Virgin Media O2 DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade programme’. Ultrafast broadband (i.e. a service offering downlink speeds of at least 300Mbps) was said to be available to 62% of homes (18.2 million) at May 2021, up marginally from 61% four months earlier, while superfast broadband (defined as offering download speeds of at least 30Mbps) was available to 96% of homes, a figure unchanged since Ofcom’s previous report.
At the lower end of the scale, Ofcom said that ‘decent’ broadband – which it defines as offering 10Mbps download and 1Mbps upload – was currently available to the vast majority of UK properties. It said that the number of properties (both residential and commercial) that cannot receive a decent broadband service from a fixed line was largely unchanged between end-January 2021 and end-May 2021, standing at around 650,000 (or just over 2% of all homes and businesses).
Away from fixed broadband connectivity, Ofcom reported that mobile coverage remained largely unchanged since January 2021, with 4G available to 92% of the UK’s landmass from at least one operator at May 2021. By comparison, geographic not-spots (that is, ‘areas where good 4G services are not available from any mobile operator’) had fallen slightly between the two reporting periods, dropping to 8% from 9%, although road coverage remained unchanged.
Given that the UK is ‘still in the early stages of 5G rollout’, Ofcom did not report on 5G coverage in its latest update, although it did note that it continues to work with mobile operators to establish how best to evaluate and report on 5G coverage, adding that it intends to publish data in this area for the first time in its December 2021 report. One titbit of information it did release, though, was that while in 2020 two thirds of all 5G connections recorded in its research were in London, that figure has since fallen to 45%, as cellcos have extended coverage to more areas.