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Woah, we’re halfway there… with Gigabit broadband

Gigabit speed broadband is now available to just over half of UK and homes and businesses, according to new figures shared by the government on Tuesday.

More than 15 million properties, or 50.2%, can access a broadband connection capable of download speeds of 1 Gbps, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) announced, based on figures compiled by ThinkBroadband.

“We are pleased to see the UK break through the 50 per cent mark for gigabit availability across the UK and if existing plans from providers come to fruition we are looking at 65 to 68 per cent gigabit coverage in early 2022,” said ThinkBroadband editor Andrew Ferguson, in a statement.

“The next few years are going to be transformative for the UK broadband market with the many full fibre networks being built and we look forward to mapping all of them and ensuring the public can easily see what their broadband options are,” he added.

Indeed, the UK is awash with new and existing fibre builders rolling out network at a rate of knots. Ofcom put full fibre coverage at 24% in May, with 1 million homes having been passed since the start of the year. And barely a week goes by without a new announcement on investment in UK fibre providers. The market is starting to look pretty healthy.

But far be it from those in the corridors of power to miss the chance to talk up their own role in matters.

DCMS described passing the 50% mark for the availability of gigabit broadband – which includes but is not limited to full fibre – as a “huge leap,” noting that the figure stood at just 6% in January 2019, almost three years ago.

“Since then the government has embarked on Project Gigabit, the biggest broadband rollout in British history, with an unprecedented £5 billion of funding to connect hard-to-reach areas,” DCMS’s announcement reads. Nice bit of juxtaposition there. Surely the government is not claiming that Project Gigabit has anything to do with the increase in coverage, given that it named the locations to be covered by the first phase of funding as recently as March with a view to breaking ground in the first half of next year.

“Thanks to the work of industry and our record £5 billion investment, we are making phenomenal progress in the Prime Minister’s infrastructure revolution,” said Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries, who was appointed to the post less than a week ago.

Might be best to stick to thanking industry for now, at least until Project Gigabit actually starts digging.

One of the key drivers of the growth is cable operator Virgin Media O2, which was included in the DCMS announcement. Earlier this month it announced it had added 1.7 million UK homes to its gigabit network – which is based on both fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and DOCSIS 3.1 cable – to reach 10 million in total. It is aiming to reach 15.5 million by the end of the year.

“With a clear plan to connect our entire network to gigabit speeds by the end of the year, we’re proud to be playing the leading role in delivering most of the government’s broadband target ahead of schedule and boosting the UK up the global broadband league tables,” said Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media O2.

There are doubtless other operators out there that would take issue with Virgin Media O2’s leading role, but that’s a story for another day.

On the subject of league tables, the FTTH Council Europe last week described the UK as a market with “huge growth potential,” when it comes to full fibre, which admittedly sounds a little like damning with faint praise. However, the country now ranks ninth of the EU39 countries covered by the IDATE statistics the industry body shared, thanks to 65% growth over 2020, and is forecast to take fifth place by 2026.

Things are moving in the right direction.

  • Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies


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