The UK broadband landscape is one that evokes a lot of emotion and given some of the sweeping statements and press coverage of previous years where almost every story about the BDUK project featured stock photo fluffy sheep in a field or a person standing with a laptop in field you can almost forgive people who thought the phase 1 BDUK process was explicitly targeting rural areas. The reality with a 90% target and the modern value for money mantra was that some rural areas were going to be helped, but not all of them.

Those reading this blog who have yet to see any improvement in their broadband situation either from the BDUK process and the current BT contracts, or an alternate operator have our sympathy and while for these people it looks like nothing has changed, the data points to a lot happening just that until coverage reaches 100% there will always be those missing out. One aspect of the BDUK process and the BT contracts is also that there are campaigns being run that decry any achievements made as they don’t believe that speeds of 24 Mbps and faster were a worthy target speed.

So onto the data and the first thing to do is look at the actual demographics of UK premises. The generally quoted quick stat is that 80% of UK premises are in urban areas and the chart pretty much agrees, perhaps no surprise given that the data behind it is based on official census definitions.
Proportions of UK households in rural and urban areas

The different proportions are key to interpreting the coverage levels and yes while GB Village and Hamlets do fair a lot worse than the urban areas they are actually doing a lot better than the almost zero coverage of a couple of years ago. Difference in rural and urban broadband coverage

People can of course check how coverage has changed in their part of the UK using our checker which tracks roll-outs, speed test results and the availability of a great many alternate providers.

With the UK just 1.2% behind the goal of 90% superfast coverage at this time, it will be interesting to see how the coverage bar chart changes, since 1.2% across the whole UK when translated to GB villages has the potential to raise the coverage level significantly. With our updating of the checker we see weekly exchange only line areas that acquire the option of VDSL2, some business parks getting FTTP and for those project areas towards the end of their phase 1 roll-out even additional VDSL2 cabinets to serve clusters of around 50 premises too far from an existing VDSL2 cabinet.

Fibre to the Home or Premises is seen as the current future proof gold standard of broadband and there are debates to be had over whether GPON is a dead-end and point to point fibre is the true FTTH solution, and when you look at where Openreach and KC have deployed FTTH in the UK the results may surprise some people.


KC and Openreach FTTH coverage levels

The coverage of FTTH by the two incumbents in the UK is low, but it will surprise many to see hamlets and villages sitting at the top of the table, part of this is down to the roll-out in Cornwall where 3 out of 10 connections are native FTTP based, but in other parts of the UK we see FTTP appearing in small clusters, some of this is long lines as part of the BDUK projects, some is for industrial parks and some is for new build premises.

Ultrafast Broadband in the UK

Of course some say that VDSL2 and the definition of superfast at 24 Mbps (Westminster) or 30 Mbps (EU) and faster are too slow for modern use of the Internet, and therefore we are tracking availability of ultrafast broadband options. We include any provider with an ultrafast service that offers 100 Mbps or faster speeds though it could as easily be 200 Mbps or faster if we wanted and the figures would not change. The ultrafast figures include a wider range of providers such as Gigaclear, Hyperoptic, B4RN, IFNL with the big one being Virgin Media.

No one has set an actual target for ultrafast coverage yet, but with some of the phase 2 BDUK contracts going to Gigaclear, and other examples like West Oxfordshire District council we expect to see things change a fair amount between now and 2017. The Virgin Media Project Lightning expansion is underway and this is likely to have a significant impact on the fringe areas of towns. Then there is the unknown of what CityFibre/Sky/TalkTalk will achieve, comments of 10 million homes passed are mentioned but nothing concrete, and then there is whatever Openreach will do with and its premium fibre on demand service when it eventually launches. It is possible the Ofcom review of how to handle Openreach may have an impact on the plans, both negative and positive.

Broadband Speed Trends Over Time

We know some people do not trust the availability statistics no matter how much work goes into producing them, hence our two pronged approaching of analysing the masses of speed test data we have and the above chart plots the changing speed picture across Great Britain. Yes there is a divide and yes urban areas are faster than the rural ones, but the trend over the long term is for improvement, and the link between levels of superfast coverage and mean download speed is shown as we’ve attached the coverage level at 30 Mbps or faster to each line.
VDSL2 speeds in rural and urban areas

Looking at Great Britain again we can filter our speed test results based on those using just Openreach FTTC and the above chart shows that while sparsely populated and hamlets only started to show enough FTTC tests to appear on our chart in 2013 the range of the mean observed speeds in Q4 2015 was just 27.1 Mbps to 29.8 Mbps. This seems to rip apart the idea that in rural areas FTTC is not delivering speeds comparable to the urban areas and remember that speed test results will always be lower than the theoretical speed since people have a tendency to buy the cheapest product e.g. our observations of Hyperoptic suggest that only 20% buy the Gigabit service, and 20% opt for the 20 Meg down (1 Meg up) product. On Gigaclear just 6% appear to be using the fastest 1000 Mbps service. This means that even though people have the option of an up to 76 Mbps and speed estimates above 40 Mbps an awful lot of people will pick the up to 38 Mbps, to save £5 to £10 per month.

Of course what the speed test results are not telling us is those who are not able to order a VDSL2 based service at all due to the distance from the cabinet, but the coverage data will tell us if this is a major problem.

2016 should hopefully bring us some clarity on how the Universal Service Obligation is going to work and we may get a little more certainty on what will happen to Openreach and this may or may not trigger firms like CityFibre to increase their FTTH roll-out to residential areas.

20 Responses

  1. Kit on 12 Jan 2016

    Nice analysis, shows the facts of the improvement over the past 3 years. It would be good if you still had the figures to show a figure of 30Mb ofr higher from 2012 so that we could see if there had been a significant improvement in the Village/Hamlet figures over the period of the BDUK project against that of the Urban areas.


  2. Valerie on 18 Jan 2016

    Yes the figures are interesting but there is no mention of rural dwellings that do not fit into the village/ hamlet specification. In many farming communities and deeply rural areas dwellings are scattered among the hills. These people are already isolated from many other services, and often suffer poor telephone service too. Even fibre to the cabinet is unlikely to happen.

    • Ivor on 22 Jan 2016

      I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily true.

      It’s already been pointed out that Cornwall makes up a lot of the Openreach FTTP rollout, but a fair bit of this is in exactly the situation you describe.

      I live in a village which is probably 30-40% FTTP, the rest FTTC, but if I drive 5 minutes outside the village, into the middle of nowhere, there’s Openreach FTTP at every pole – poles that may only serve one customer each (and in most cases has not taken up the service), or indeed none.

      I’ve seen some very strange Openreach FTTP areas down here. There’s no real pattern or meaning – areas that could easily support FTTC, get FTTP instead.

      Others that really need FTTP due to line length, have been given FTTC. I’ve seen FTTC cabinets in the middle of nowhere, and FTTP too. I’ve also seen streets where one half got FTTP, the other half got FTTC.

      Some EO lines have been given a copper cabinet to allow for an FTTC twin to be installed, others were given FTTP instead.

      It could be ultra-urban or the back of beyond, it doesn’t matter.

      It’s more like a lottery – where BT has proven that they can deploy FTTP in any situation if they really want to, but don’t

      • Lucky Cornwall on 10 Feb 2016

        Lucky you – I live on the outskirts of Okehampton (Devon). The original “promise” for high speed broadband here was spring 2013 – the latest guess is late 2016/early 2017. (So-called) Connecting Devon & Somerset are so much worse than useless as to be aggravating.

        • Silverdove on 21 Mar 2016

          I moved into our house, in a hamlet of four houses three miles outside of St Austell, 18 months ago. We are >1500 meters from the nearest cab. I get an average of 1.6 d/l and 300 u/l. I have had a hum on the line for all the time we have been here, which is apparently caused by a power line running along side the cable somewhere. – which is causing a harmonic I’m told.

          OpenReach have said that they are probably not going to be able to clear the hum, and it is extremely unlikely that my BB speed will increase – unless I use satellite or a mobile signal.

          Before I moved here I was told by BT that I would get ‘up to 17mb’! One OpenReach engineer even told me that ‘It wasn’t our decision that you moved here’.

          It is not all about BB speed – as the government seems to be fixated on – it is also about data capping. All BB should be unlimited.

  3. Mark Blunt on 22 Jan 2016

    I live in rural Hampshire. BT internet is 1Mb/s after years of pressuring for a “clean” line from the cabinet some kilometres away. We are in the County upgrade program but our area is “challenging” from an engineering point of view as the copper infrastructure dates back to 1943. The date for upgrade is always moving into the future.

  4. Bill Dornan on 25 Jan 2016

    I live between Carrickfergus and Whitehead in N.I The lack of movement towards faster broadband is the difficulty here. We are connected to a split cabinet and have the offer of “new faster broadband” but the speeds are listed as slower than ADSL. We are served by overhead cables that are rather old and patchy to say the least. This is a small village but the name dropped some years ago along with the recognition of such so now we are classed as being in Whitehead even though we are literally at the end of the Line(s).

  5. Cecil Ward on 15 Feb 2016

    I live in Skye. My BTW 21CN ADSL2 lines are 4.55 miles long (downstream attenuation of 65 dB), and have a downstream sync rate of about 2.8 Mbps. I have three lines tied together to give me a measured downstream throughput of 7.0 – 7.7 Mbps, depending on which speed tester you ask.

    Nothing has happened in the last decade, since ADSL Max in 2006 until 21CN and ADSL2+ in December 2015. FTTC is coming to some in the area but not to me with my 4.55 mi line, according to the staff at the local government ‘superfast’ government propaganda machine at HIE. Do I wait another decade in hope that something unspecified might happen? Do I wait to see if a USC or USO or whatever is just a bad-taste joke? (And whatever it is, it must be wholesaled so I can have my own choice of high quality ISP like everyone else, not a choice of one.) And don’t even dare to mention satellite. I want and need HTTP. There’s the annual lightning damage to consider, and the the general total reliability, copper had its day decades ago and it’s bewildering seeing all this pointless investment going into it. No public money should be going into high speed copper and no public money should be going to anything that does not wholesale. I’m left bewildered wondering if anything is ever going to happen and, you know, I don’t have that many more decades left.

  6. lanesra10 on 23 Feb 2016

    I have 100gb gigaclear in rural Oxfordshire which on WIFI is rubbish basically its 10mb 2 feet from the Router which gives 100mb on cable. If just using a 2nd phone or laptop for normal internet usage it drops down to almost nothing. A sky movie in Standard format of 895mb over wifi takes 40 minutes to download.
    The solution from Gigaclear hardwire your house, not a lot of use for Phones, tablets and laptops OR buy InSSiDEr, get a 3rd party It company inolved and get some additional router!
    What driving me mad is 6mb BT and a BT3 router handled all this better.

    • machare on 11 Mar 2016

      @Ianesra10. I suggest that put your BT router in a position where you can get a good wifi signal where you want to use it, then:

      a) Connect it to the Gigaclear router by cable.
      b) Disable the DHCP
      c) Make sure that the IP address does not conflict with the Gigaclear router, and is outside the range that the Gigaclear router assigns.
      d) Make it assign the same SSID and passport as the Gigclear router and use a channel that overlap with the Gigaclear router.

  7. Matt on 26 Feb 2016

    I live in semi-urban west yorkshire and i have only seen an improvement in my line speed because a nice BT engineer upgraded the connection that came into my house reducing noise on the line. However I still only get 6Mbps on a good day, and BT have thrice pushed back the commercial rollout of superfast broadband in our area. Personally I do not see Openreach meeting the USO in the forseeable future, and view this as being a marketing ploy but all concerned to show they care about the last few percent, when in fact little will be done.
    Backing that up, a local parish council wanted help in getting superfast in their village. SFWY wouldn’t talk to them as they say that responsibility lies with Calderdale MBC, who when asked, said they had transferred all broadband rollout work over to SFWY. SFWY, for their part do not have any named people to talk to, nor a telephone number, and can only be contacted by a web form. Personally I believe that unelected bodies like this without someone public to hold them to account, will end up ignoring the last few % becuase it will be too much trouble for them.
    Please someone prove me wrong, but my experience so far is very negative, and i do not see any information here on in the public domain to say otherwise

  8. Simon on 13 Mar 2016

    Having many friends living room in rural Gloucestershire it’s clear that improvements have been made in many cases but there is still a long way to go. Our small community of 7 houses some way for the main village are all 2mb or less and cannot find out if anything will improve or when and BT wanted £25k plus for a solution.
    I think the frustration is simply not knowing if we will be able to receive an improved speed as well as any real idea of a timeframe. I had hoped that the BDUK process would have at least surveyed everyone and be able to provide some level of premises level guidance so we would then be aware how challenging things were and an idea of timetable. BDUK is funded with our money not BT’s but it appears there is little real hope of a level of detail which most people crave. It feels like the team at Fastershire are doing their best but probably are similarly frustrated

    • dave on 14 Mar 2016

      i thought we were bad we have some 20 houses in our village but we get told we are two far away from the shiny new box 3.1 kilometers so we cant have super fast we don’t care all we want is an improvement on the pathetic 1 or sometimes 1.5 MBits with no dropouts plus we have a political divide we live in north Yorkshire and the box which serves our lines the shiny one is i east Yorkshire. the powers that be when we challenged them said we will never get fibre.

  9. Steve on 14 Mar 2016

    Great to have “sympathy”, but my community still has no prospect of superfast ! I’m leading a campaign in the outer edges of the London Borough of Bromley to bring fast broadband to a part of the capital being completely ignored. I represent approx 4,000 residents and over 100 businesses with average download speeds of 2mb or less. With no government financial assistance (“London is deemed well served”), a local council unable to help because of lack of funds (London Borough of Bromley), the Greater London Authority unwilling to help, and all suppliers unwilling to invest, we are going to be in the disadvantaged 5%. And all this within Greater London ! The quotes about 90% or 95% or whaever are of absolutely no use to us here !!!

  10. Oakapple5 on 15 Mar 2016

    I live about 6 km from Yeovil and about 5km from the nearest exchange. Download speeds occasionally reach 1 MB/s (particularly for a couple of days after engineer call outs) but usually much less. All yesterday it was 0.015 to 0.016 MB/s, so downloading the latest instalment of The Night Manager which I missed on Sunday took from 9am till 11.30 pm. I guess there is an intermittent fault on the (partly OH, partly buried cable) line but it’s not economic for this to be replaced because of the small number of dwellings it serves. Fast BB roll-out is supposed to reach here by the end of 2017, but the people on the ground are dubious about the chances of this. Full monthly charges are levied.

  11. Oakapple5 on 15 Mar 2016

    I should have added that the local BT line was completely down for three weeks around Christmas 2015

  12. PeterH on 26 Mar 2016

    Installed 18 months ago FTTC..After many engineering visits and a cable from Duct to top of pole replacement stabilised at just over 30 down 5 up, but has slowly deteriorated and currently varying from around 17 down 5 up to 5 down -1 up. We have tried swapping out the Hub5 to non BT but no difference. BT response was unlocatable intermittent fault and VP [?] problem in exchange [Ramsey 01487] so results as far as we are concerned useless

  13. dave on 29 Mar 2016

    I live in a rural area some 27 houses however the Local authority will not connect the village as we are in another LA area by(3 kilometers) i discovered that when BT bid for the area anything outside the LA boundary was not included though the exchange in the LA has the upgraded exchange and street cabinets and nothing will change ie no reasonable connection no wireless and very expensive satellite even with the offer of a voucher scheme

  14. Alistair Webb on 04 Apr 2016

    You really fail to grasp a fundamental, do you not. The object of this technology is to provide access to ALL to the information – CONTENT. At a useable rate. Not the “faster is better” minorities, let’s’ first get to every single home. It just needs to be good enough. We can add bells and whistles later, but progress requires inlusiveness without exorbitant costs. It is essential for access to a basic education, access to government and services for all. Can I please ask you to drop speed obsessing and get availability to the very top of the agenda. Even if we have to force it in to some areas. It is that important.

    • chris conder on 17 Apr 2016

      Hi Alistair, it does need to be better than ‘good enough’ because it won’t be good enough for very long. A few years ago 10 Mbps would be good enough, now it isn’t. BT are patching up their old network with FTTC, which is ‘good enough’ for the majority. The point that needs making is to reach everyone we should do the hardest bits first, and to do that copper won’t work. We need fibre. We have to set the goalposts higher. We have to encourage competition to the monopoly so they raise their standards. If we hadn’t had Virgin in the cities we’d all still be on dial up.