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95% Coverage of Superfast Broadband Goal Reached

The United Kingdom has finally reached its target of 95% of premises (residential + business) being able to access a broadband connection of over 24 Mbps download speed i.e. superfast broadband, 95.0079% to be exact. We need to get this caveat in very quickly, the 95% target is not a consistent 95% across all communities in the UK, but with areas like Epson and Ewell, Tamworth, Worthing and Watford and others all pushing into the 99% superfast coverage zone these areas pull the figures up compared to the City of London (50.3%), Orkney Islands (66.8%), Western Isles (71%) and Kingston Upon Hull (71.7%) at the other end of the table. The full set of council, constituency and regional coverage figures are on https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/[1] where the historical coverage graphs and tables of all the councils and constituencies will let you see if your area is expanding its level of superfast coverage still and compare the coverage levels to other areas.

The roll-out of superfast broadband has been a mixture of commercial and gap funded solutions and what is interesting to note is that while there seemed to be a rush of BDUK based roll-out in December during January 2018 there has been a slow down, this may be partly down to the Christmas holiday season or it may reflect the new pace of roll-out from Openreach as it is switching to roll-outs with a higher proportion of full fibre and as its contractual commitments to the BDUK projects is fading it is revisiting some long delayed commercial cabinets and starting to focus on the mixture of G.fast and FTTP in commercial areas.

United Kingdom Broadband Coverage Details as of 28th January 2018
Metric

Premises
Homes + Businesses

Percentage

Total Premises

28,914,859 100%
Fibre based coverage
i.e. includes VDSL2 with no distance modelling and cable, FTTP
28,188,588 97.5%
Superfast Broadband Over 24 Mbps
The definition used by Westminster and most phase one BDUK projects
27,471,411 95.0%
Superfast Broadband Over 30 Mbps
Westminster and all other projects are expected to harmonise on this definition of superfast during 2018
27,377,033 94.7%
Ultrafast Broadband Over 100 Mbps 15,396,456 53.3%
Full Fibre Broadband (FTTP/FTTH/FTTB) 979,453 3.4%
Openreach/KCom FTTP/FTTH 599,287 2.1%
Openreach Fibre based coverage
i.e. includes VDSL2 with no distance modelling and GEA-FTTP which needs no distance modelling
26,699,045 92.3%
Openreach Superfast Broadband Over 30 Mbps 25,830,257 89.3%
Under 2 Mbps Download 202,732 0.7%
Under 10 Mbps Download 709,165 2.5%
Under Legal USO
10 Mbps Download and 1 Mbps upload, upload restriction excludes ADSL2+
1,088,922 3.8%
Over 15 Mbps Download
Often called High Speed Broadband
27,957,287 96.7%

The above figures may help people to understand why there is some much anger still from those that have not seen given a superfast option arrive, i.e. when roll-out announcments of 90%, 95% or some other figure from a county are made people are obviously hopeful that they will be connected, but as individual projects start calling out target met (we’ve not found any that have missed their target by any significant margin yet) the hope vanishes and someone has been missed out the hope quickly turns to anger and doubly so if the roll-out got within sight of their property. Reaching the 95% is not the end of superfast roll-outs, DCMS is hopeful that the roll-outs will continue as projects continue to announce use of gainshare allocations and for Wales and Scotland their next contracts are signed. The hope is that roll-outs will eventually deliver superfast to 97% to 98% of premises before 2020, and the focus of a lot of the work in terms of tracking coverage now from ourselves, Ofcom and DCMS will be looking into how likely that looks and how many premises fall into the USO category.

95% Coverage of Superfast Broadband Goal Reached
Graph showing changing levels of superfast broadband coverage in the UK, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland since 2010.

The above chart shows the progress of the roll-out of superfast broadband over the last eight years and thus covers the commercial and BDUK phases and Northern Ireland did have an early lead in 2012 then in 2014 England overtook, following by Wales and Scotland in 2015.

Northern Ireland is now playing catch-up and after a year or two of small numbers of infill cabinets we are starting to see a much higher mixture of both rural and urban fibre to the premises. The take away for the nations of Great Britain is that while there are differences in the absolute figures the digital divide has closed down immensely but until all those lines hit 100% there will be more work to be done.

95% Coverage of Superfast Broadband Goal Reached
Graph showing changing levels of superfast broadband coverage in the English Regions 2010.

Looking at England in particular you can see why London was left out of the BDUK process as it had a significant lead on the other English regions but that lead has almost vanished.There are three regions which can be seen to be lagging and on the South West the delays to the Connecting Devon and Somerset phase two contracts is partly to blame and with a FTTP heavy roll-out from Gigaclear planned the fix will not be overnight, Yorkshire and Humber is showing strong levels of change in 2017 largely down to the full fibre roll-outs by KCom in Hull. The East of England has no major project issues that we can pin down beyond the rural nature of so much of the counties involved.

On KCom they are unusual since the full fibre roll-out that should now be heading to 100% has meant a slower roll-out than the Openreach FTTC based roll-outs but ultimately once they complete costs should be lower since likely to need less engineering staff to maintain a modern full fibre network. In its early days the BDUK process was called various things of the ones we can reprint, rural broadband programme and final third were common ones, so many in the most rural areas thought the project was going to be an outside in process, i.e. most rural and slowest would get upgraded first, alas the criteria of value for money and hitting coverage milestones meant that much of the roll-out in the phase one contracts was cabinets in towns and larger villages and only as phase two contracts took hold did many areas will a push into deeply rural areas, hence the graph below for Great Britain has three distinct phases, commercial roll-out the driver 2010 to 2013, phase one contracts until end of 2015 and 2016 and 2017 with the phase two contracts and more of the rural being helped.

95% Coverage of Superfast Broadband Goal Reached
State of Superfast Broadband Coverage in Rural and Urban Great Britain since 2010.
The deep rural figure (10.8% of GB premises) is the more rural premises i.e. a subset of the GB Rural figure, and thus represents the most sparsely populated areas and comprises some 3,069,437 premises.

Of course showing the most rural 10% of Great Britain has three quarters of premises with the option of superfast broadband does not mean three quarters of every village, so places like Hatherden and Wildhern in Hampshire still have no superfast broadband coverage and other villages have situations where one half can order a much better service and the other side cannot. This resulting patchwork is often not very well communicated by the many projects and Openreach (BT) who often talk of superfast broadband coming to a community but neglect to say what proportion of a community is going to benefit.

The biggest concern people have with the coverage statistics is that they know they cannot get superfast broadband due to the distance from the VDSL2 cabinet, but still presume that Openreach has been paid to deliver it to them and thus feel the projects have been wasting money. The tracking we do does take into account the distance performance of VDSL2 hence the difference between fibre based coverage and the two definitions of superfast broadband, as do the DCMS figures and so should the invoices that Openreach (BT) present for payment on the delivery of infrastructure. The onus is on the individual local authorities to verify what they are paying for, just as with any contract no matter whether delivered by commercial or an in-house council team.

Could more have been delivered, of course and that is why so many areas of the UK are forging ahead and the dream of 97% to 98% superfast coverage exists but one major problem with the contracts has been that if any contract has a protracted planning period complaints arise about the slow delivery, so identifying the so called low hanging fruit to get delivering as soon as possible has been a key driver for the BDUK projects. The increasing ratio of full fibre in the commercial roll-outs and BDUK projects which are now spread around a number of suppliers now means the pace of roll-out in 2018 is likely to slow down and maybe show would have happened if a full fibre heavy roll-out had been done from the start, i.e. we’d be looking at much lower percentages of coverage over the same time period and a lot less money left at the end of the various phases to be announced as savings to be used in the next phase. The problem is that for those in the most rural areas the outside in approach is best as it would meet their needs sooner, but for those living in the larger villages the outside in approach would see them left out for a longer period, it is the villages that comprise the larger proportion of the population.

The onus now needs to be on getting as many people as possible to upgrade to the superfast services where they are available, especially in areas where public money was used as higher take-up will increase the gainshare payback and if this happens during 2018 there is real hope that more local authorities will skip the Universal Service Obligation by announcing plans to deliver 100% superfast broadband coverage and deliver this by 2020 or if not delivered by 31st December 2019 that the plans are firm enough that people will know the roll-out will reach them in 2020 itself.

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References

  1. ^ https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/ (labs.thinkbroadband.com)
  2. ^ Login (www.thinkbroadband.com)
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