The latest Connected Nations report from Ofcom, released today, has illuminated the current landscape of mobile coverage and broadband accessibility across the United Kingdom. The findings, based on data collected in April and May 2023, reveal significant progress in broadband availability, with full-fibre broadband now accessible to the majority of UK households.
Full-fibre Broadband Penetration Surges
One of the standout revelations from the report is the substantial growth in gigabit-capable broadband availability. The report indicates that nearly 22.4 million UK homes, equivalent to 75 percent of the total, now have access to gigabit-capable broadband services. This represents a notable increase from the 73 percent recorded in the previous report. This boost has been primarily propelled by the ongoing rollout of full-fibre broadband infrastructure.
Over half of UK households, accounting for 52 percent or 15.4 million homes, can now enjoy the benefits of full-fibre broadband. This expansion has been attributed to the efforts of major fibre operators and smaller providers who have made significant inroads into connecting individual communities and regions.
Meanwhile, superfast broadband, offering download speeds of at least 30 Mbit/s, remains accessible to 97 percent of UK homes. The remaining 3 percent, often in more remote and challenging-to-reach areas, are expected to benefit from recent publicly-funded broadband initiatives.
For those seeking decent broadband services, defined as providing a minimum of 10 Mbit/s download and 1 Mbit/s upload speeds, the report affirms that the vast majority of UK properties meet these criteria.
Stable Mobile Coverage with Promising Developments Ahead
The Connected Nations report also examined mobile coverage in the UK. While there hasn’t been a significant increase in coverage since the last update, the mobile industry continues to evolve and improve its services.
Approximately 93 percent of the UK population can expect to enjoy reliable outdoor 4G coverage from at least one mobile operator. This figure is anticipated to rise to 95 percent by the end of 2025, thanks to the Shared Rural Network initiative.
Despite these advancements, there are still geographic and road areas across the UK classified as 4G not-spots, where mobile services are not accessible from any operator. The report indicates that geographic not-spots have marginally decreased from 8 percent to 7 percent, while road coverage remains largely unchanged, with 4 percent of all roads being identified as in-vehicle not-spots. Notably, this figure varies significantly among the different nations, particularly in Scotland and Wales.
Regarding calls and texts, the report states that overall coverage remains relatively steady. Mobile operators offer a range of predicted coverage, varying between 85-93 percent of the UK, depending on the specific operator. Additionally, 99 percent of all UK premises are predicted to have coverage for outdoor voice calls from all mobile operators.
The Connected Nations report underscores the significant progress made in broadband availability while highlighting ongoing efforts to enhance mobile coverage, promising a more connected and accessible future for residents across the UK.
Key Highlights from the Report:
Gigabit-Capable Broadband Reaches 22.4 Million Homes: The report indicates that nearly 22.4 million homes in the UK, constituting 75 percent of all households, now have access to gigabit-capable broadband services. This marks a significant increase from the previous figure of 21.9 million homes (73 percent), demonstrating a robust 2 percent growth in just a few months. This progress has been largely attributed to the continuous expansion of full fibre broadband infrastructure.
Full Fibre Deployment Surpasses Halfway Mark: Over half of UK homes, specifically 15.4 million households or 52 percent, can now enjoy full fibre broadband services. This demonstrates a remarkable increase of 15 percentage points within a year and 4 percentage points since the Spring 2023 update. The growth in full fibre deployment is primarily driven by larger fibre infrastructure operators and supported by smaller providers, including those serving individual communities and regions. Some of these deployments have benefited from various public sector funding initiatives.
Superfast Broadband Coverage Remains at 97 percent: Superfast broadband, providing download speeds of at least 30 Mbit/s, continues to be accessible to 97 percent of UK households. Notably, Northern Ireland has seen a one-percentage-point increase, bringing its superfast broadband coverage to 97 percent as well. The reduced pace of expansion may be attributed to the challenges associated with reaching the final 3 percent of properties. However, recent publicly funded schemes hold promise for further improvements.
Decent Broadband Accessibility Improves: The number of premises unable to access decent broadband services, factoring in both fixed wireless and fixed-line networks, has seen a decrease from 68,000 to 62,000 premises since the spring of 2023.
The vast majority of UK properties can now access decent broadband, defined as offering at least 10 Mbit/s download and 1 Mbit/s upload speeds. The report notes that the number of properties, including residential and commercial, unable to receive a decent broadband service from a fixed line has decreased from 433,000 to 428,000 since the Spring 2023 report.
Stable Mobile Coverage: The report indicates that mobile coverage for 4G remains stable, with approximately 93 percent of the UK landmass predicted to have good outdoor 4G coverage from at least one mobile operator. This coverage includes nearly all premises in the UK, indicating widespread access to 4G services.
5G Expansion: The steady march of 5G continues, with 85 percent of premises in the UK now able to receive a 5G signal outdoors from at least one mobile network operator. This signifies ongoing investments in next-generation mobile technology.
Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) Networks: Broadband services are also available through Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) networks, which are provided via mobile networks or Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs). FWA networks, when effectively managed, can deliver decent broadband services and serve as an alternative technology for areas without access to a fixed network.
Continued Progress in Addressing Coverage Gaps: The report estimates that around 62,000 premises in the UK still lack access to a decent broadband service from either a fixed network or an FWA network. This represents a reduction from the estimated 68,000 premises in the Spring 2023 report. Of these, just over 50,000 premises are not expected to be covered by publicly funded schemes within the next year. These premises may become eligible for the broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) product, pending further checks and confirmation by the universal service providers, BT and KCOM.