Evolution of Fixed Access
For well over a century, copper systems underpinned telecommunications’ infrastructure in the UK and worldwide. Today, fixed broadband access has become an integral part of consumers' lives. The availability of high performance and reliable fixed broadband access is vital for consumers to access digital and online services, as well as for driving economic growth in the UK. However, the vital fixed access copper link has been a bottleneck on service delivery, which will be unlocked for many decades by the installation of full fibre.
Fixed broadband infrastructure in the UK is undergoing a rapid transformation, from copper to gigabit-capable and full-fibre infrastructure with coverage of 75% and 52% of UK residential premises, respectively, as of May 2023. Although the usage growth trend has been slowing down compared to earlier years, fixed connections continue to deliver circa 94% of the total fixed and mobile data traffic according to the usage data reported in Ofcom’s Connected Nations report in Dec. 2022. The arrival of fibre to the last leg of the network is enormously important. The vast fibre capacity can accelerate innovation in services, drive economic growth, and transform sectors such as education, work, health, and transport. As we transition through this decade, we expect a multiplicity of access technologies (fibre, twisted pair and coaxial cable as well as fixed wireless access and satellite broadband) will continue to coexist over the coming years to ensure meeting consumer demands under different network conditions and scenarios.
Ofcom has a duty to report on different types of networks provided in the UK, including reporting on fixed broadband coverage and performance in our Connected Nations reports. The technologies underpinning these network infrastructures continue to evolve, and we continually monitor their developments to ensure that our policy teams are well-informed and can take these developments into account when shaping new policies. The Communications and Media Technology (CMT) team, formerly the Emerging Technology, have conducted numerous interviews with field experts from industry and academia. In addition, the CMT team applied their own analysis, research, and standards reviews to form a speculative view on the future of access networks in the UK.