Broadband networks rush to meet UK’s need for speed

09 September 2021

  • Around a quarter of homes can now get full-fibre internet
  • Millions upgrade to faster packages to support home working
  • UK’s average broadband speed up 20% since the coronavirus pandemic began

Around one in four UK homes can now get faster full-fibre internet, as broadband companies have extended their networks at rapid pace during the pandemic – new Ofcom figures reveal.

With millions of people continuing to rely on their broadband to work, learn and stream their favourite shows from home this year, new Ofcom figures show that just under seven million (24%) of all UK homes can take-up full-fibre internet packages - up from 21% at the start of the year. These services are faster and more reliable than internet carried over the decades-old copper network, which many UK households still use.

Nearly 12 million (40%) of UK homes can now get gigabit-capable broadband (able to deliver download speeds of up to 1 Gbit/s), which has increased from 37% in January. This includes full fibre and the fastest cable internet packages.

The vast majority of UK homes (96%) can get superfast broadband (download speeds of at least 30 Mbit/s), while almost all UK homes have access to a ‘decent’ connection (10 Mbit/s download and 1 Mbit/s upload) – enough to browse the internet, stream TV shows or make video calls.

However, around 134,000 UK properties are still unable to get a decent connection. These properties could be eligible for an upgrade under the broadband universal service.

UK properties broadband coverage as of May 2021

UK households upgrading to faster internet

The need for faster speeds during the coronavirus pandemic has driven many UK households to upgrade their package.

We have measured the speeds and performance of broadband services at over 2,500 households. Eighty-five per cent of those have taken-up superfast packages, up from 75% in November 2019 – before the pandemic led to mass home working and learning. This means we estimate over two million households have been upgraded to packages with advertised speeds of at least superfast level (30 Mbit/s and above).

Take-up of these faster packages is reflected in the higher average speeds households are getting. The median average broadband speed recorded in our research was 50.4 Mbit/s – up 20% on the average speed in November 2019 (42.1 Mbit/s).

Of the packages we measured, Virgin Media’s 516 Mbit/s service provided the fastest median average download speed (490.3 Mbit/s), while BT’s 300 Mbit/s full fibre package had the highest median upload speed (50.6 Mbit/s). Upload speeds are important for video calling, gaming and transferring large files.

Keeping connected on the move

We have also researched how mobile coverage and performance compares across the UK. Our latest figures show that mobile coverage remains largely unchanged since January, with 4G available to 92% of the UK’s landmass from at least one operator.

Work is underway to improve coverage across the UK – particularly in rural areas – through the Shared Rural Network, which was agreed between the mobile industry and UK Government in 2020.

The pandemic has led to a continued shift in how people use their mobiles, Ofcom’s Mobile Matters research reveals. People using Android handsets spent nearly three quarters (73%) of their time online connected to Wi-Fi, rather than their mobile network – reflecting more time spent at home.

More areas of the UK are getting connected to 5G. In 2020, two thirds of all 5G connections recorded in our research were in London; but that has now fallen to 45%, with mobile operators rolling out coverage to wider areas.

Yih-Choung Teh, Group Director Strategy and Research at Ofcom: “Over two million households have upgraded their internet package since the pandemic began, and broadband firms are rushing to meet the UK’s need for speed.

“With full-fibre networks being built at a record rate, the UK’s networks are being made fit for the future. But our figures show work is still needed to get decent broadband to remote parts of the UK.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

  1. The latest broadband and mobile coverage figures are included in our Connected Nations summer update. This includes data on coverage across the UK and each of its nations, as of May 2021.
  2. In March 2021, Ofcom published its Wholesale Fixed Telecoms Market Review – setting out the conditions to support competitive investment in full-fibre broadband.
  3. Broadband speeds data is available from our UK Home Broadband Performance report. This involves measuring the broadband speeds and performance experienced by a panel of 2,541 households – using equipment attached to their broadband routers. The data in this report is taken from March 2021.
  4. This year’s UK Home Broadband Performance report uses median averages (rather than mean averages as in previous reports) when analysing connection performance. The median average is calculated as the middle value when a dataset is ordered from lowest to greatest, whereas the mean value is calculated by adding all values in a dataset and then dividing by the number of values in that set. This change more accurately reflects the experience of consumers, as median averages describe a base level of performance that at least half of consumers will experience whereas mean average performance can be distorted by a comparatively small number of very fast connections.
  5. Our Mobile Matters research monitors how a panel of around 280,000 Android handset users were using their mobile phones between January and March 2021. Apple’s iOS system does not allow logging of information in the background, in the same way Android’s system does, so we have had to base this research on Android users only.

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