Gigabit broadband in the UK: government targets and the opportunity for telcos

At the start of the decade, the UK government pledged to make gigabit broadband available across the country by 2025. Although this target has since been revised to 2030, Ofcom reported at the end of last year that 70% of UK households can now access gigabit broadband packages.

But despite the drive from both government and private companies to rollout the infrastructure, uptake from consumers is still slow. Part of the problem is that the gigabit initiative is still ongoing, and many households across the country aren’t aware they can upgrade yet. That’s not helped by a confusing picture of who’s responsible for the rollout, with private telcos, central government and regional authorities all involved at various stages.

But it’s not just gigabit that isn’t being fully embraced. Ofcom’s 2022 Connected Nations report also found that while 97% of UK homes can access 30Mb per second broadband, only 73% actually take it.

As more choices are put before consumers, it becomes harder for them to know which one is the best for them. Telcos have a huge part to play in helping them navigate their options – and a huge opportunity to build more loyalty and trust with their customers as a result. For new ISPs, there’s also a chance to lay down the right customer relationship from the get-go. 


Safety and convenience matters just as much as cost 

It’s easy to point fingers at cost or a lack of infrastructure as the reason behind slow uptake. But while those factors certainly play a part, the habits of individual consumers is just as large a barrier to overcome.

In the UK currently, 73% of broadband coverage is provided by just four companies: BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk. BT alone occupies 25% of the broadband market. 

Consumers feel safe with those larger telcos. They’re established companies, with years of service and customer reviews behind them. If something does go wrong with the network, they’ve got ranks of customer support to call on and engineers to deploy. 

It’s hard for new, smaller telcos to compete against that. Even if the service they’re offering is thirty times faster, consumers still see switching to a less-established provider as a risk. Will they be able to deliver the promised speeds? If there’s a problem, how long will it take to resolve it? Are new ISPs less likely to stick around? 

But more than that, consumers rarely want to think too much about their broadband provider. Shopping around for new deals is confusing and time consuming. Unless their bill shoots up or there’s something egregiously wrong with their current package, they’re unlikely to browse around at who else is on the market. 

Effective field sales campaigns can be a powerful opportunity for newer ISPs to overcome those challenges. If there’s a perception of risk in switching to a new provider, field sales reps can listen to those concerns and address them directly. And most importantly, they can engage with potential customers about the options available to them. 

Do consumers even know what’s available? 

In 2022, internet service provider Zen found that 32% of UK adults said they couldn’t define what full fibre broadband means. When those that said they knew what full fibre meant were presented with possible definitions, only a third could actually identify the correct one.

When consumers weigh up their broadband options, they’re met with an array of jargon. Both Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) and Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) are offered up as fibre broadband, despite FTTC still using slower, less reliable copper wire for part of the connection. Terms like Superfast and Ultrafast broadband are used both as definitions for specific download speeds and marketing terms.

For many consumers, gigabit broadband is just another part of an already unclear picture. If they’re not sure what kind of connection they currently have, the prospect of upgrading it to gigabit is unlikely to have much of an impact.

We recently spoke to a BT customer who signed up to their first Wi-Fi contract in 2022. They explained that while they knew they needed Wi-Fi for their phones and TV, their knowledge about what service they were getting was limited.

“I was paying over £20/month for speeds of less than 3MB,” they said. “It was my daughter who found this out and realised we could actually get a much better full fibre service for a similar price. During initial sign up, no one took the time to explain these options, I could still be paying through the roof for bad internet!” 

That education gap is a clear opportunity for telcos to reach out more directly to their customers. They have the expertise to decode all of the options and terminology, and it’s expertise that a large section of the market clearly needs to make more informed decisions.

For that to be truly effective however, it needs to go beyond defining things by download speeds. If they’re already uncertain what broadband they currently have, talking about megabits per second likely won’t illuminate much for them. Even if gigabit broadband is far beyond what their current package is capable of, they need to know what that means for their personal internet usage. 


Speed won’t matter if consumers don’t believe it 

A 2020 Censuswide survey of UK households served by the big four ISPs found that 22% rated their internet as “OK” or worse. 20% also said they felt they were overcharged for the service they received.

In theory those figures suggest that a large section of the market should be low-hanging fruit for providers offering gigabit speeds. But the problem for new or smaller telcos is that dissatisfaction with their established competitors often reflects poorly on the industry as a whole. 

A common point of distrust for consumers is signing up to a deal that promises fast broadband with speeds up to 500Mb or more per second, only for their average speed to be far lower in reality. When one of the country’s largest providers lets them down like this, it makes them question how a telco they’ve not heard of before can deliver true gigabit internet instead.

With a smaller share of the market, new telcos are also more easily harmed by poor customer experiences. If they say they can provide gigabit broadband but their online reviews say their network is patchy or their engineers didn’t show up to appointments, consumers will question whether they can really deliver on their promise.

Again, this is an opportunity for new ISPs to create a competitive advantage from their field sales. Reps do more than speak to leads and close sales. They’re the bridge between a telco’s brand and its customers, and the relationships they build on their routes will be key to winning trust. 

Building that trust isn’t easy, but it’s what consumers need to get on board with gigabit. 

To learn more about building trust with your customers, read our thoughts on using territory management to boost customer experience and brand reputation and field sales: the untapped competitive advantage.