Connected Nations Report 2020: Gigabit broadband reaches one in four homes

Ofcom has published its 2020 Connected Nations Report, revealing positive figures for the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband across the UK, and that despite the significant increase in demand through lockdown, the UK's mobile and broadband networks have coped well with demand. 

Rollout of full-fibre increases to 18%

Ofcom's research shows that full-fibre broadband is now available to just over 5m homes (18%) – a rise of 80% in a year, the largest increase to date. Availability in the UK is highest in Northern Ireland (56%), followed by Wales (19%). One of the main advantages of full fibre is its greater reliability, and as Ofcom notes, this is important, as the UK households used an average of 429 gigabytes (GB) of data each month in 2020 – up 36% from last year (315GB). 

Positive news too for the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband, as Ofcom reveals that nearly eight million UK homes (27%) can get gigabit broadband, which includes full fibre and Virgin Media’s fastest cable package (known as DOCSIS 3.1). 

Figures for superfast broadband are broadly similar to 2019 statistics, with the vast majority (96%) of UK homes can now access superfast broadband: download speeds of at least 30 Mbit/s. However, within rural areas, this falls to 81%. Not all of the UK benefits from these speeds, with a small number (0.6%) of properties across the UK—around 190,000— cannot get ‘decent’ broadband: download speeds of 10 Mbit/s and upload speeds of 1 Mbit/s.

Mobile coverage - 5G gains ground

All of the UK’s mobile network operators continued to roll out new 5G coverage this year, with Ofcom reporting around 3,000 5G transmitters are now in locations across all four nations – ten times as many as last year. The 4G picture is positive too: 4G services are available outdoors from all four networks for 97.5% of UK properties. But this drops to 87% outside rural properties. 

Ofcom notes the significance of the Shared Rural Network programme, which aims to improve 4G coverage and help tackle mobile not spots: currently 8.6% of the UK’s landmass. Ofcom outlines that it will monitor and report on the progress of the joint programme in future Connected Nations reports.

UK networks stand firm

Ofcom notes in its report that it has never been more important for people across the UK to be connected. As the UK entered the first lockdown in March 2020, millions of people relied on fast, reliable broadband and good mobile connections to work, learn, access public services, keep entertained and connect with loved ones. While the UK's networks experienced significantly higher levels of demand, particularly in the daytime, networks and providers had the capacity to meet this demand, and coped well with the increases. 

Mobile networks also successfully coped with the increased demands and changes in network traffic patterns during the lockdown period. There was an increase in call volumes and as restrictions continued, mobile hotspots shifted away from the city
centres to the suburbs and residential areas. 

Ofcom's data shows the number of network resilience and security problems – including outages – reported was broadly in-line with recent years.

You can read the full report here, as well as explore the Interactive Data. Ofcom has also released specific Nations reports, alongside the UK-Wide Connected Nations. 

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techUK's Communications Infrastructure Programme brings together government, the regulator, telecom companies and its stakeholders around four themes; shared infrastructure, security and resilience, unlicensed spectrum and our 5G ecosystem. We do so to lower the cost to the sector of deployment, ensure confidence in networks, spur innovation and unlock value for all parties in 5G. This is delivered through a mix of thought leadership, multilateral engagement and ecosystem building.

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Sophie James

Sophie James

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Manuel R. Marti

Manuel R. Marti

Programme Manager, UK SPF and Satellite, techUK

Julia Ofori-Addo

Julia Ofori-Addo

Programme Assistant, Central Government, Digital Connectivity Forum, Comms Infrastructure, UK SPF, techUK

Archie Breare

Archie Breare

Telecoms Programme Intern, techUK