The UK is poised to witness a substantial increase in full-fibre broadband access, with an estimated rise from 15.4 million properties in May this year to an impressive 27 million by May 2026, according to Ofcom’s Connected Nations report.
Ofcom’s data indicates that gigabit-capable coverage could surpass 94 percent, a promising stride towards ensuring high-speed internet access for a vast majority of the population.
However, the report also notes a slight decline in planned network deployments up to 2025 when compared to the ambitious plans set in 2022. Deployment has been lower by approximately 3 percentage points, and future plans have been revised downward by around 4 percentage points. Despite this, network expansions are anticipated in all regions across the UK, though some areas may experience more substantial growth than others.
Notably, both rural and urban areas are within the scope of network expansion initiatives. While urban and suburban areas will be focal points for deployment, rural areas can expect significant network expansion, often led by smaller operators with support from public incentive schemes.
In terms of competition and service availability, the report indicates that almost all local authority areas will witness multiple network operators planning deployments, with up to 76 percent of properties having the option to access gigabit-capable services from two or more providers by 2026.
Looking beyond traditional fibre, Ofcom anticipates an expansion of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) networks, offering high-speed broadband (>100Mbit/s). Approximately 5,400 additional FWA masts are being planned or upgraded across the UK, pointing to the potential for a broader reach of high-speed FWA broadband services.
Ofcom continues to emphasize and promote the extensive rollout of high-speed networks, prioritizing the advancement of full-fibre broadband coverage. The regulatory body’s efforts are geared towards encouraging competition and stimulating investments in full-fibre broadband by a diverse range of companies across the UK.
Recent findings from Ofcom indicate a significant milestone achieved in May 2023, with over half (52 percent) of UK households gaining access to full-fibre services, marking a remarkable increase from a mere 3 percent since the initiation of rules to boost full-fibre rollout in 2017. This achievement is primarily attributed to major fibre operators, complemented by contributions from numerous smaller providers serving various communities and regions throughout the country.
Data collected from UK broadband firms, outlining their full-fibre rollout plans for the next three years, has been meticulously analyzed. Based on this data, a promising forecast indicates that an impressive three-quarters (76 percent) of UK properties could potentially have access to gigabit-capable services from two or more providers by May 2026. This projection represents more than double the current availability witnessed as of May this year (30 percent).
While the majority of the planned infrastructure build concentrates on urban and suburban areas, rural regions are also set to witness substantial network upgrades. If all planned deployments materialize, urban areas could experience a surge, with 98 percent of urban properties enjoying gigabit-capable access by May 2026, an increase from the current 81 percent. Similarly, rural areas would benefit significantly, with 75 percent of rural properties covered, a substantial enhancement from the 42 percent coverage recorded in May of this year.
Moreover, the report highlights that nearly 22.4 million UK homes (75 percent) are now able to access gigabit-capable broadband, showcasing an improvement from the previous figure of 21.9 million (73 percent), driven by the ongoing rollout of full-fibre broadband.
The data also reaffirms the availability of superfast broadband, offering download speeds of at least 30 Mbit/s, to 97 percent of UK homes. The final 3 percent of properties, likely in harder-to-reach areas, are expected to benefit from more recent publicly-funded schemes.
Additionally, the vast majority of UK properties now have access to decent broadband, defined as offering at least 10 Mbit/s download and 1 Mbit/s upload speed, indicating a positive trend in broadband accessibility and quality across the nation.
UK customers have also achieved an increase in average download speeds for home broadband, reaching an average of 69.4 Mbit/s in March 2023, representing a 17 percent year-on-year increase. This surge is attributed to a growing number of users upgrading to higher-bandwidth services, including full-fibre connections.