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The Government has a target for gigabit broadband to be available to at least 85% of UK premises by 2025. Gigabit broadband means any technology that can deliver 1 gigabit-per-second download speed. That would allow a high definition film to be downloaded in under one minute.
It will be delivered to most of the UK by industry using private funding. The Government has also committed to subsidise connections to the 20% ‘hardest-to-reach’ premises in the UK.
At the end of 2020, Ofcom published the first official data on how the delivery of gigabit broadband was progressing, showing that in September 2020, 27% of premises had access to gigabit speeds. Ofcom recently published updated data showing that the availability of gigabit speeds had risen to 36% of premises by January 2021.
The data only measures the availability of gigabit speeds and not whether residents are taking up gigabit broadband.
This Insight looks at where in the UK gigabit broadband is available, progress between September 2020 and January 2021, and take up rates.
Which parts of the UK can get gigabit broadband?
As of January 2021, gigabit speeds were available to 68% of premises in Northern Ireland, 43% in Scotland, 35% in England, and 27% in Wales. Our broadband dashboard shows data and maps for constituencies and postcodes.
The map below shows constituency-level data. As of January 2021, gigabit broadband is most widely available in cities like Birmingham, Liverpool, Hull, Edinburgh, Belfast, and London. The rollout is currently uneven, and some counties have very little gigabit availability. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have poor broadband, however, as explained below.
Most of the rollout between September 2020 and January 2021 was in London
The map below shows which areas had the largest increase in gigabit availability between September 2020 and January 2021. Nationally, availability increased from 27% to 36%. Around two thirds of this new provision was in London, which previously had low levels of gigabit availability.
The biggest increase was in Tottenham constituency, which had 4.2% availability in September 2020, rising to 89.7% in January 2021 (+85.5 percentage points). Outside of London, the biggest increases were in South Wales and Northern Ireland.
Ofcom explained that the increase in gigabit availability has been largely driven by Virgin Media upgrading its cable network to an additional 2.8 million homes, in addition to other companies building new connections. There are several broadband providers building networks in London, including Community Fibre and G-Network in addition to dominant players BT/Openreach and Virgin Media.
Most of the increase is in urban areas. This aligns with the Government’s policy of promoting a competitive market to deliver gigabit broadband – urban areas are more likely to be attractive for commercial investment.
The first six areas that will receive connections by the Government’s public-funding programme for ‘hard to reach’ areas – Project Gigabit – were announced in March. Contracts to build in these areas are expected to be tendered later this year with building to commence in 2022. Our briefing on public funding for gigabit broadband contains information on timelines.
Take-up is probably low
Customers will not automatically receive gigabit speeds when their lines are upgraded, and most will have to purchase more expensive products, or switch providers, in order to receive gigabit speeds.
Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2020 data tells us that in June 2020, only 3.3% of premises (one in 30) were receiving download speeds greater than 300 Mbps, and only 1.4% of postcodes had a “maximum download speed” of 1 gigabit per second or greater.
So, it’s likely that most premises with gigabit availability are not currently taking up packages that offer those speeds.
However, customers may also choose a lower-speed service on a gigabit-capable connection. Gigabit-capable connections also offer other benefits including greater reliability and faster upload speeds. We don’t have exact data on take-up of gigabit-connections at any speed. Ofcom estimated in 2020 that take-up of full-fibre broadband (at any speed) was 25% among premises where full-fibre was available.
Gigabit isn’t the only measure of connectivity
Some areas that can’t yet get gigabit broadband still have good connectivity on other measures.
For instance, gigabit broadband is only available to 1.9% of premises in Middlesbrough, but despite this average download speeds are well above the national average. This illustrates that if you want to detect areas with poor connectivity, it’s best not to look only at whether gigabit broadband is available.
Other useful measures include the percentage of premises unable to receive superfast broadband and average download speeds. Our broadband dashboard contains data and maps for constituencies and postcodes on a range of these measures.
When will we know more?
Ofcom publishes an update to its Connected Nations data three times each year. The next update is expected in September 2021.
Gigabit-broadband in the UK: Government targets and policy, House of Commons Library
Gigabit-broadband in the UK: Public funding, House of Commons Library
Constituency data: broadband coverage and speeds, Commons Library dashboard
About the authors: Georgina Hutton is a researcher specialising in telecoms and Carl Baker a statistician, specialising in social and general statistics at the House of Commons Library.