Broadband News

How popular are the different broadband technologies?

The first quarter of 2021 ended a few weeks ago so now is a chance to look at how popular the main broadband technologies are. 

Observed split for different broadband technologies in the UK
Popularity of the different broadband technologies since Q1 2012 in the UK based on speed test results

Q1 2021 UK wide broadband technology popularity based on speed tests

  • ADSL/ADSL2+ 15.48% of tests
  • FTTC/VDSL2/partial fibre 54.92% of tests
  • fibre 0.49% of tests
  • Cable/DOCSIS broadband 22.6% of tests
  • FTTP/Full Fibre 6.93% of tests
  • Fixed Wireless/FWA 0.31% of tests

These data points are based on crowd sourced data from the speed testers are operate and are presented in a rare format with no modelling, so in interpreting results it is less about one individual quarters figures but what the trend over time is.

While the popularity of full fibre in Q1 2021 was fractionally lower at 6.93% versus 7.03% from Q4 2020 this sort of variation is to be expected from the crowd sourced nature but also may reflect a lower volume of installs that took place during Q1. The volume of installs will definitely have been lower as Openreach during lockdown put FTTP installs on hold once again and as the dominant FTTP operator they will have a big impact on the figures. Q2 2021 will help to show if this was a statistical blip or the start of worrying trend that people are not signing up to full fibre services in the volume investors want.

Old fashioned copper ADSL/ADSL2+ continues its steady decline in popularity and Virgin Media cable may be starting to be more popular once again.

The chart we have published is for the whole UK picking a couple of random authorities we can see the change in popularity of full fibre between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021.

Local AuthorityQ1 2020 FTTP popularityQ1 2021 FTTP popularityFTTP Coverage 22nd April 2021
Belfast 7.31% 7.2% 78.75%
Cardiff 4.23% 6.72% 44.8%
City of Edinburgh 6.35% 8.41% 44.73%
Coventry District 7.04% 11.99% 71.47%

The four council areas show that there is a lot of variation across the UK and that what might be working to drive take-up in one are might not work in other areas.

The vast majority of marketing is pushing the gigabit dream and unfortunately that means that an awful lot of people think full fibre is expensive when in reality the vast majority of FTTP operators have slower speeds in the 50 to 100 Mbps region available at semi reasonable prices. The big difference with full fibre is the reliability i.e. no random resyncs due to a neighbour using a treadmill.

One problem for take-up is that while many reading this will not mind al £5 to £10/m premium for full fibre there is an even bigger number for whom broadband is just another utility bill. The popularity of partial fibre (FTTC) compared to copper (ADSL/ADSL2+) only started to rise once pricing dropped to around £25/m or as low as £20/m if you buy at the right point in the price cycle. One benefit for network operators is that full fibre is less costly to operate in terms of maintenance but that benefit will only apply to Openreach, KCOM and Virgin Media as they are the three operators with legacy metallic local loops and this benefit will only be realised once they can stop maintaining those legacy networks.


As both the big drops in virgin users also have a drop in ADSL users I'm curious if they were amazing offers or big FTTC fill in projects

  • Hewitt96
  • 19 days ago

nvm I just noticed the spike on the first big swap from cable to FTTC, but all ADSL to FTTC, so a FTTC fill in project on Virgin areas

  • Hewitt96
  • 19 days ago

If the data is sourced from speed testers, is there going to be some selection bias,
whereby those who have a more reliable connection and always feels "fast enough" are less likely to be routinely or even obsessively checking speeds, compared with someone who feels like their connection is chugging, experiencing congestion, or trying to squeeze that last 5-10Mbps on their FTTC?

Anecdotally I see some people using the speed testers as part of trying to find out if/why something is broken or not as ordered, whereas on FTTP they might only be checking it the first week or so of service.

  • prlzx
  • 15 days ago

While there is a always a degree of bias the figures are roughly in line with known data points in the past. So as an indicator of the trends over time.

FTTP is not immune to the quirks of ISP network if fixed speed connectivity solved everything Virgin Media would be the goto provider.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 15 days ago

The drop of ADSL in favour of 4G isn't covered, though I suspect the figures aren't huge. I could well imagine distinguishing mobile from 'fixed' 4G would be difficult.

  • brianhe
  • 15 days ago

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