The latest analysis from Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, shows that UK broadband speeds have withstood the surge in demand resulting from home working and online lessons during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The regulator has also found that broadband coverage continues to improve across the UK, with thousands of customers now able to access faster speeds than they could in September 2019.
However, while connections remain steady and an increasing number of people can access speedy connections, rural areas still lag behind towns and cities.
Caroline Normand, Which? Director of Advocacy, said:
‘While overall broadband speeds may be holding up during the pandemic, we know that there are many people who are struggling with poor connections or having difficulty contacting their provider if they need support.
‘It’s right that providers continue to prioritise those who are most in need, but they must not abandon their other customers – especially those who face price increases or are struggling to work from home without a decent connection during this challenging time.
‘Meanwhile Ofcom’s data shows 4G coverage is still dire in many areas of the country and despite an agreement being reached by government and industry on a shared rural network, consumers are yet to see any of the improvements that they have been promised.’
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No lockdown slowdown for broadband
Ofcom’s research explored the effect of the lockdown on average broadband speeds in the UK. Networks have been under greater demand, because of a larger proportion of us working or learning from home, plus a lack of alternatives making gaming and streaming TV obvious options during leisure time.
Some broadband providers have reported that weekday daytime traffic has increased by as much as 60% during the lockdown.
However, the regulator found that the impact on broadband performance has been minimal – download speeds fell by just 2%, while upload speeds fell by 1%. Meanwhile latency – the delay between a connection requesting an action and that action taking place – also remained fairly stable, seeing just a 2% increase.
If you’ve been experiencing slow connection speeds, there are steps you can take to help ensure your connection is as fast as possible – head to our guide on how to speed up slow broadband to get started.
UK broadband coverage is improving
There’s also good news when it comes to the availability of faster broadband connections in the UK. In a separate report, Ofcom outlined increased availability of faster broadband connections as of December 2019, compared with September 2019.
- Superfast broadband (speeds of at least 30Mbps) are available to 300,000 more homes than in September 2019. This is 95% of UK homes.
- Speeds of at least 300Mbps are now available to 55% of homes – 700,000 premises more than in September.
- Full-fibre broadband coverage has also increased – it can now be accessed by 3.5m homes. This is 12% of all premises, up from 10% in September 2019.
However, while availability has increased, we’ve found that standard broadband customers often stick with slower speeds because they’re unsure whether faster fibre broadband is available at their property.
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The rural/urban divide
While faster connections are being made available to an increasing number of properties, Ofcom’s analysis shows a disparity in the experiences of those living in urban and rural areas. It found that average peak-time speeds in urban areas reached 75Mbps in 2019, while the rural equivalent was just 39Mbps. However, the gap is gradually closing – while just 44% of rural lines received superfast broadband in 2018, this rose to 56% in 2019.
Meanwhile, some 2% of the UK’s homes and businesses are still unable to get a fixed broadband speed of at least 10Mbps. In March, new rules granting people the legal right to request a ‘decent’ connection came into force. Those who are affected can make a request for an upgraded connection to BT (or KCOM if they live in Hull).
However, if provision of a faster connection costs more than £3,400, customers will be asked to pay the excess costs. Connections can also take up to 24 months.
Mobile coverage holds steady
Meanwhile, mobile coverage in the UK remains unchanged since September 2019, although Ofcom’s report didn’t take into account the rollout of 5G. 4G coverage in the UK hasn’t changed significantly, with two thirds of the UK landmass having good coverage from the four mobile networks (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone).
However, the Shared Rural Network – an arrangement between the government and the four mobile networks – is set to transform mobile coverage in rural areas. The network will see all four providers share infrastructure to provide coverage to an additional 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads in the UK.
The biggest coverage improvements are expected in rural parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Check which network has the best signal in your area using our mobile phone coverage map.