UK ‘Gigaboom’ For Broadband Reaches Halfway Point

Just over 50% of premises are now able to access gigabit-capable broadband, up from 6% in 2019.

The UK government says more than half (50.2%) of UK homes and businesses can now access the fastest commercial broadband speeds available.

The figures are according to ThinkBroadband and mean UK premises are now able to access gigabit-capable broadband, up from 6% in 2019 – and up from 36% in January 2021.

Passing 50% national coverage means more than 15 million properties can access a broadband connection capable of download speeds of 1,000 megabits or one gigabit per second.

The telecoms industry has also expanded its investment in and roll-out of gigabit-capable networks. Earlier this month Virgin Media O2 connected a further 1.7 million homes to gigabit services, expanding its gigabit network to cover more than 10 million homes across the country, with plans to upgrade its entire footprint of 15.5 million homes before the end of 2021.

Andrew Ferguson, editor of ThinkBroadband, says: “If existing plans from providers come to fruition we are looking at 65 to 68% gigabit coverage in early 2022.”

Called Project Gigabit, this is the “biggest broadband roll-out in British history”, with £5 billion of funding to connect hard-to-reach areas.

The government notes that gigabit connectivity, which is predominantly delivered via full or hybrid fibre broadband cables running into homes and businesses, will be increasingly necessary in the coming years as more and more internet-connected ‘smart’ devices become available for the home. Not forgetting the issue of remote working as well.

While ministers and broadband operators deem today’s (21 September) news a “significant” milestone during London Tech Week, others may well disagree.

At the start of the year, the public accounts committee criticised the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for not making “meaningful progress” on its promise to deliver gigabit internet to 85% of the UK by 2025. The government had initially planned for 100% coverage but had to revise its targets in November last year.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, the chair of the public accounts committee, said: “Due to a litany of planning and implementation failures at DCMS, those promises are slipping further and further out of reach – even worse news for the ‘rural excluded’ who face years trying to recover with substandard internet connectivity.”

A DCMS spokesperson said the department disagreed with the report and that it had mistakes.

A Slow Nation

In December 2020, the UK parliament looked at ‘Delivering gigabit connectivity at pace’ in its report.

There were a number of criticisms – such as the need for “speeding up procurement timelines” and that the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband was “likely to encounter not just a ‘rural’ problem, but a ‘small towns’ problem”.

This means that “significant numbers of premises will be uneconomic for commercial deployment, but not ‘rural’ enough for outside-in funding”.

Internet speeds are frustratingly slow in the UK – and a source of immense frustration for consumers and businesses.

According to Cable.co.uk, the company behind the ‘Worldwide broadband speed league 2021’, the UK is ranked no. 43 in the world. It sits behind such countries as Thailand, Barbados and Bermuda. Jersey is ranked as no. 1.

The global league table comprises internet network speeds derived from over 1.1 billion speed tests taken in the 12 months up to 30 June 2021 and spanning 224 countries.

Antony Peyton
Antony Peyton is the Editor of eWeek UK and has 17 years' journalism and writing experience. His career has taken him to China, Japan and the UK - covering tech, fintech and business. Follow on Twitter @TonyFintech.

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