This week, the UK’s biggest broadband and mobile providers have secured their commitment to connect as many homes as possible with gigabit-speed broadband.
The pledges were made at Connected Britain 2021, the largest telecommunications conference in the country. And they came from leaders of BT, newly-formed Virgin Media O2, Vodafone, Three and many others.
In the past, the only way to get a decent home broadband connection was to have a fixed cable connecting to your home. But now, the industry is now exploring multiple methods of high-speed internet.
The priority is still full fibre, where fibre-optic cables connect all the way from the broadband exchange to your home. But broadband and mobile providers such as Vodafone, Three, Virgin Media O2 and even BT, are also finding ways to get 5G home broadband to more UK residents.
Tying this in with Virgin Media’s gigabit upgrades to its own cable network, it should make it easier than ever for people to enjoy internet speeds of 1Gbps or higher.
Gigabit broadband is the gold standard of home internet connections in the UK. It’s at least 20 times faster than the current average broadband speed in the UK. Speeds at this level will future-proof your home — including all the extra devices you get in the future — for decades to come. Currently, around 40% of the UK can access an internet connection at this speed.
‘Gigabit’ refers to the amount of data that can be transmitted to your home in the space of one second. You may have heard of ‘gigabytes’ (GB) before — they’re one of the file sizes you might see next to a movie, video or game before you download it.
A gigabit, however, is one-eighth the size of a gigabyte, and along with ‘megabits’ is how internet speed is measured. Just like with gigabytes and megabytes, a gigabit is 1000x larger than a megabit.
So if you want to download a 100GB console game, a 1Gbps connection should manage this in just 14 minutes. A speed of 50Mbps however, which the current average for the UK, would take nearly five hours.
Not only do gigabit speeds save you a lot of time on downloads, but since it transfers so much more data, the quality of what you can watch at a smooth rate is much higher. It would allow for seamless 8K streaming while others in your household are playing games, making video calls or watching their own content.
All providers remained committed to fulfilling the UK government’s pledge: to ensure 85% of UK homes are connected with full fibre by the end of 2026.
This technology is by far the most reliable way of ensuring a long-term gigabit broadband network in the UK. This is because fixed fibre connections are extremely consistent and reliable and less prone to dips and damage.
Part of the government’s plan to roll out gigabit full fibre broadband is its scheme Project Gigabit, which focuses on connecting hard-to-reach homes.
Historically, broadband providers haven’t been very willing to install fibre cables in rural and remote areas, due to high costs and low revenue in return. Project Gigabit initially aimed to encourage providers to install full fibre broadband in these areas by giving them money to afford installations.
But at Connected Britain, we found that smaller providers have recently started ‘racing’ to install full fibre in remote areas with their own budgets. This has meant the government no longer has to subsidise many of these installations, and the taxpayer money that was going to be spent on the project will be saved.
The expansion of full fibre is ramping up, with the availability of the technology growing from 7% to 24% in the last two years. So make sure to regularly check your postcode to see if full fibre is in your area — if it’s not, it could be soon!
Due to its relatively low coverage and signal strength, 5G currently isn’t a very reliable option for most people’s home broadband. But providers want to change that.
At Connected Britain, CEOs of the largest telecoms companies agreed in unison that expanding the 5G network could significantly help with the gigabit broadband rollout.
Compared to fixed-line connections, 5G is a lot cheaper and more practical to set up and install, because it doesn’t require digging up entire roads and connecting a cable to each individual home.
However, its connection speed and strength remain an issue, and it will need a much more extensive and robust network before it can supply speeds at a gigabit level.
Lutz Schüler, CEO of the newly-merged telecoms giant Virgin Media O2, gave an update at Connected Britain on Virgin Media’s Project Lightning. This is a plan to make all of its cable connections gigabit-capable by the end of 2021.
Virgin Media’s rapid upgrading of its network is currently the biggest driver of gigabit rollout in the UK, pushing the coverage of gigabit across the country to 40% in Autumn 2021.
But it won’t be leading the charge for much longer, because Virgin Media’s cable network is only available to 52% of the country. So as soon as it upgrades all of its connections to gigabit, it won’t be able to drive coverage up any further than that 52%. That is unless it also starts to grow its network even further as well.
And other providers will have to take the lead with increasing its availability.
Be sure to compare broadband deals with Uswitch to see whether you can get gigabit broadband speeds.