How much of the UK has full fibre broadband now?

Full fibre broadband coverage has improved in recent years, but we’re a long way from universal coverage.

Wednesday, 28 February, 2024

If a week is a long time in politics, five years is an eternity.

Since the 2019 General Election, we’ve had three prime ministers, four cabinet reshuffles, 22 by-elections and an incalculable number of departmental reorganisations across Westminster.

One of the latter ultimately led to a decision in early 2023 to move overall responsibility for broadband internet to a newly created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

DSIT took on this role from another inelegantly titled government division – the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.

DCMS was clearly going to fail to meet a key objective from the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto – to deliver 100 per cent full fibre broadband across the UK by 2025.

However, the inevitability of missing this milestone (even with two years still to go) wasn’t within DCMS’s control.

It was a completely implausible pledge from the outset.

As broad’ as it’s long

DSIT’s adoption of responsibility for broadband and mobile communications was seen in some quarters as a belated attempt to accelerate the roll-out of full fibre broadband across every corner of the UK.

This was always going to be hugely challenging across a nation run by a warring mixture of Conservative, Labour and SNP/Green governments, each with conflicting policies and priorities.

Add in the myriad complexities caused by Northern Ireland’s lack of government, and the challenges of cabling 210 other inhabited islands, and the scale of the task becomes clear.

It therefore came as a surprise to nobody that the most recent summary of fixed broadband coverage across the UK shows only 60.5 per cent of UK homes have full fibre.

The latest national target for 99 per cent coverage provides scope to exclude the Highland bothies and island cottages that always made Boris Johnson’s 2019 pledge look ridiculous.

Even this target has been put back until 2030, though with a change of Westminster government expected later this year, few people believe this latest deadline will be met, either.

For the 40 per cent of UK households still unable to access full fibre broadband, that means ongoing challenges while trying to play online games, stream media or work from home.

Regional variations

The latest available data covers the second half of 2023, revealing huge disparities in full fibre coverage across the UK.

Scotland’s disappointing figure of 54.8 per cent is due to the myriad failings of the Scottish Government’s R100 broadband scheme, as well as its scattered rural population.

By contrast, Northern Ireland’s small size and Belfast-centric demographics means a remarkable 94 per cent of homes have access to full fibre broadband deals in Northern Ireland.

England and Wales have figures hovering around 60 per cent. Both have sparsely populated rural regions contrasting against more urbanised (and heavily cabled) areas.

Indeed, the biggest disparity is between cities where altnet ISPs like Grain and CityFibre are installing proprietary networks, and rural counties dependent on slower Openreach cabling.

What can I do about this?

From an individual perspective, there isn’t much consumers can do regarding the infrastructure under their streets and buildings.

Consumers on sluggish ADSL connections might be advised to investigate an alternative delivery platform like satellite broadband or 4G/5G mobile broadband networks.

They can explore whether full fibre broadband is available from providers other than their current one, or whether there are plans to roll out full fibre in the near future.

It may even be possible to upgrade an existing connection to a faster one (many consumers are on contracts operating at less than full line capacity) in exchange for a higher monthly fee.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!