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UK broadband networks are standing up to coronavirus pressures – Ofcom

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has suggested while there has been a very minor impact to broadband speeds during the COVID-19 pandemic, it isn’t enough for anyone to be concerned.

In the UK Home Broadband Performance report, Ofcom noted average download and upload speeds fell by 2% and 1% respectively, and latency increased by 2% when comparing pre- and post-lockdown performance. The surge has had a statistical impact, however a 2% decrease is download speeds is highly unlikely to have any material impact on experience.

“Broadband in the UK has really been put to the test by the pandemic, so it’s encouraging that speeds have largely held up,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Group Director for Strategy and Research.

“This has helped people to keep working, learning and staying connected with friends and family.”

This is of course not a report designed to give confidence to the UK in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is supposed to be a periodic measure of how broadband infrastructure is progressing across the country. But the publication of performance levels across the country is a very useful by-product.

Looking at the wider trends across the UK, average speeds are on the up. There might be some incremental gains from upgrades which are being done on networks, but a more likely explanation is more people subscribing to superfast and ultrafast broadband services. This is a trend which seems to be extended to the countryside also, potentially eroding the digital divide.

From a full-fibre perspective, trends are heading in the right direction from an infrastructure perspective, but it is not necessarily translating through to commercial gains. Ofcom is now suggesting 12% of homes now have fibre services available, though a much lower number of customers have actually upgraded.

According to the latest statistics from the Fibre to the Home Council Europe, only 18% of the households who are able to subscribe to full-fibre broadband do so, meaning 2.8% of UK households have a fibre broadband package. It does appear UK telcos are a lot better and laying fibre than they are at selling it.

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