Broadband Availability Checker
To determine what broadband is available in your area, it’s important to distinguish between fixed line (home) and mobile broadband. Fixed line broadband operates over phone lines or your network’s own cable network, run to the telephone exchange cabinet on your street or directly to your home. Mobile broadband operates over the mobile phone network and can be picked up anywhere you have sufficient signal. The availability of certain home broadband types and providers in your area will depend on the phone line or cable infrastructure. Mobile broadband availability depends on mobile network coverage which, as you know from your mobile phone, can vary on the same street or even within the same address. Take account to the portability of mobile broadband, one of its main attractions, and determining whether a mobile connection will be available every place you want it is a tricky proposition. We’ll tackle that later.
Determining which home broadband options are available, and at what speeds, for your neighborhood is much more straightforward. It’s as easy typing your details, usually your postcode and landline phone number, into a broadband availability checker. But to make better sense of your local options, it’s useful to familiarise yourself with the types of fixed line broadband available to UK customers.
Availability of the Main Home Broadband Types
There are three main types of home broadband in the UK: ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line), cable, and fibre. In general, cable and fibre services are faster than ADSL and are classed as ‘superfast’ broadband. But, unlike ADSL, they aren’t available everywhere. Almost every address can get ADSL but only 91% of addresses in the UK have access to superfast broadband as defined by Ofcom (a minimum speed of 30Mb/sec download) while according to the government’s definition (a minimum speed of of 24 Mb/sec download) 92% do. 38% of premises are currently using superfast connections.
To understand the geographic availability of ‘superfast’ and ADSL broadband, let’s take a closer look at the technology, speeds, and providers of the three types.
Technology: The most popular type of broadband, ADSL delivers the internet through the copper wires of your phone line.
Speeds: There are two types of ADSL technologies: ADSL 1, capable of speeds of 8 Mb/sec, and ADSL 2+, with a maximum speed of 24 Mb/sec. These speeds are slower than can be achieved with cable or fibre technology and don’t meet definitions of superfast broadband
Providers: The main ADLS providers are BT, EE, Fuel, Plusnet, Post Office, Sky, and TalkTalk, although not all cover all areas. A coverage checker will tell you which carriers operate in your city and neighbourhood.
Geographic availability: Almost every address in the UK can be connected to ADSL broadband—99% of the population has coverage—but not every provider will operate in your area. Many homes in the Hull area, for example, are only covered by local provider KCOM and not the national networks.
Technology: Cable broadband uses fibre and coaxial cables to deliver internet to your home. Most of the network will be fibre optic. The difference between cable and fibre broadband comes down to the last mile of the network, how the internet gets from the phone exchange to your house. Fibre networks use standard copper phone lines while cable broadband covers that last mile on coaxial cable, which loses less speed over distance than copper phone lines do and thus can deliver data faster.
Speed: Cable offers superfast broadband speeds, with the fastest (and most expensive) packages from Virgin advertising speeds of “up to” 362 Mb/sec. Slower and cheaper cable packages often boast speeds of between 50 and 200 Mb/sec on the mainland and between 30 and 120 Mb/sec on the Isle of Wight.
Providers: Only two providers offer cable broadband in the UK: Virgin Media and WightFibre, which serves only the Isle of Wight. They usually sell cable broadband bundled with phone and TV services, so you may struggle to purchase cable broadband by itself.
Geographic Availability: Cable broadband is available to just under 50% of UK homes. However Virgin has committed £3 billion to bringing it to another 4 million homes by 2020 so if you can’t get cable broadband today you might be able to by the next time your broadband contract is up.
Fibre Optic Broadband
Technology: Fibre optic broadband does what it says on the tin: uses fibre optic cables rather than copper phone lines to carry data, giving you a faster and more reliable connection than can be obtained through ADSL. However, most fibre optic networks only run to your local phone exchange. From there to your home, the data will be sent over standard copper phone lines: this is FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) broadband.
Speed: FTTC comes in three theoretical download speeds: 80 Mb/sec, 55 Mb/sec, and 40 Mb/sec, although real-world speeds will usually average around 77 Mb/sec, 52 Mb/sec, and 38 Mb/sec. Speeds decrease the further away your home is from the street cabinet. Only premises within 30 metres of the cabinet can expect to achieve the fastest speeds. With fibre optic cables that offer theoretical 80Mb/sec speeds, speeds will fall to 60 Mb/sec at 500 metres from the cabinet and 28 Mb/sec at 1 km. Faster speeds can achieved through FTTP (fibre to the premise) broadband, also called FTTH (fibre to the home) and FTTB (fibre to the building) or full fibre, which runs a fibre optic line directly to your home. Some FTTP providers advertise speeds of 1000 Mb/sec, or 1 gigabit/sec. More standard FTTP speeds around around 300 Mb/sec. And unlike ADSL or FTTC connections, FTTP boasts ‘symmetric speeds,’ meaning downloading and uploading speeds are the same.
Providers: BT, EE, Now TV, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin, Vodafone, KCOM in Kingston-upon-Hull.
Geographic Availability: Over 90% of homes in the UK have access to superfast fibre broadband. BT alone offers coverage for between 80 and 90% of the country. Superfast broadband coverage rates are higher in England (92%) than in Northern Ireland (85%), Scotland (87%), and Wales (89%). However, most of these connections will be FTTC and not FTTP, which, as of May 2018, is available in around 1.2 million premises—just 4% of the addresses in the country. The Hull area boasts the highest availability of FTTP, thanks to local provider KCOM’s full fibre roll-out programme Lightstream. Nearly 58% of homes in the city of Kingston-Upon-Hull can access FTTP, while 37% in the neighbouring East Riding of Yorkshire can. Many London boroughs and affluent suburbs in the Home Counties boast high FTTP availability but other leaders may surprise you. Cornwall comes in number 3 on the list and places like Bournemouth and Rutland also enjoy good FTTP coverage.
When Will My Area Get Superfast Broadband?
The availability of superfast broadband, whether cable or fibre optic, is increasing all the time. Meanwhile government and local authorities poured £1.7 billion over the last five years into extending superfast broadband infrastructure to 4.5 million homes and businesses in areas the industry had deemed “not commercially viable,” many of them rural. 800,000 new premises were connected in 2017 alone.
If your area isn’t yet equipped for high-speed broadband, you can track the progress of the superfast roll-out project through Rural Broadband Partnership website or get involved with a community broadband project, which partner directly with broadband networks to bring high-speed internet to rural areas.
When Will My Area Get Full Fibre Broadband?
FTTP broadband availability is also increasing, with Virgin Media extending its full fibre broadband to 2 million new premises in the coming years. Both CityFibre, partnered with Vodafone, and Hyperoptic have announced plans to provide 5 million premises with FTTP broadband by 2025, Openreach estimates it will be able to bring full-fibre to 10 million additional premises by around the same time. Meanwhile Gigaclear has plans to provide 150,000 rural addresses with FTTP by 2020 and KCOM, in Hull, will have FTTP across its full coverage area from March 2019.
Meanwhile, the government is running pilot programmes bringing full fibre broadband to businesses, schools, and hospitals in trial areas in Aberdeenshire, Bristol, Coventry and Warwickshire, Greater Manchester. West Sussex, and West Yorkshire.
Availability of Mobile Broadband
Mobile broadband, because it operates over the mobile phone network, is subject to the same fluctuations in coverage you’re used to with your mobile phone: dead zones on certain streets, that one room in your house where you can never make a call, interruptions in service due to tall buildings. It’s worth checking if you receive good mobile phone service from the provider in all the areas you want to use the mobile broadband—at home, along your commute, in the cafe where you plan to telework, the park down the road—before signing up to a contract or purchasing a dongle.
You can use an online mobile coverage checker for your area but remember that service can also be impacted by things like the thickness of walls in your home that a simple address search can’t account for. If your phone is on the same network, a manual check of signal might be more reliable. Can you get 4G on your phone in your garden or bathroom? You can get 4G mobile broadband.
Be aware that even if you’re signing up and paying for a 4G mobile broadband package, you may still be stuck on the slower speeds of 3G broadband a lot of the time, due to lack of 4G coverage. Geographic 4G coverage from all four UK operators (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) stands at just 57%. 4G coverage in rural areas is particularly hit or miss but you may also struggle to connect in cities. The best cities for 4G cover include Middlesbrough, Sheffield, Sunderland, Leicester, and Leeds, while Bournemouth, Southampton, Cardiff, Nottingham, and, somewhat surprisingly, London rank near the bottom. Local opposition to the construction of mobile networks masts mean 4G coverage can be spotty, even in built-up, affluent areas. 3G speeds are usually just 1/5th those of 4G so you’ll notice the difference.
If speed is important to you, you can check mobile and 4G coverage for your chosen provider in the areas you expect to use mobile broadband using OpenSignal’s coverage map.