While full-fibre coverage across the UK lags at just 12%, nearly half of Northern Irish households can access these ultrafast broadband connections.
Openreach’s gigabit-capable FTTP network has crossed 40% coverage in Northern Ireland, reaching a reported 360,000 premises. That’s up 100,000 premises since January alone.
Customers connected to Openreach's network have the option of ultrafast broadband tariffs from BT (top speeds of 900Mbps) and, as of this month, Sky (top speeds of 285Mbps), with more wholesalers expected to eventually offer services on the network.
With additional full-fibre connections from Virgin Media and new market entrant Fibrus, a total of 47% of Northern Irish households have a full-fibre option.
In Belfast alone, coverage from Openreach’s FTTP network has hit 72%. Seven out of the city’s 11 council areas are in the UK’s top 20 local authorities for access to faster broadband.
In the UK, only the city of Hull has more widespread FTTP coverage, with KCOM’s £85 million Lightstream project having achieved near-universal full-fibre access in the city last autumn.
And Openreach isn’t slowing operations in the devolved nation yet. Of the 4.5 million full-fibre connections Openreach is targeting for March 2021, 525,000 of them will be in Northern Ireland, boosting coverage there to 60%.
Mairead Meyer, Director of Openreach NI, told The Irish News: “The full fibre build programme is central to Northern Ireland’s digital future and economic growth and will provide the region with more reliable, faster and future-proof broadband.
“We’re delighted to have reached the 360,000 premises milestone today [Tuesday, 23 May]. We are building right across Northern Ireland, having finished projects from Bangor and Magherafelt to Enniskillen, as well as building full fibre to rural communities in Tamnaghmore and Upper Ballinderry among others.”
Openreach is ultimately aiming to spend £12 billion to reach 20 million UK premises with full-fibre by the “mid to late 2020s.”
The UK government has committed £5 billion to ensure all households access to “gigabit-capable” broadband by 2025—although some of these connections may be delivered by wireless connections rather than fixed-line broadband.
Currently, the goal looks most achievable for Northern Ireland. Fibrus itself has doubled down on its initial commitment to connection 145,000 Northern Irish addresses to full-fibre by 2024 and is now pledging to help the region achieve universal full-fibre access by a year after that.
But while many Northern Irish households can access the fastest widely commercial available broadband in the UK, others are coping with outdated speeds. Coverage of superfast (24Mbps+) broadband speeds remains at just 89%, less than in other regions of the UK.
The government is hoping to rectify that with Project Stratum, a £165 million plan to connect an additional 78,500 premises in Northern Ireland to broadband capable of 30Mbps+ speeds. A contract for the project is due to be awarded in September, with both BT (Openreach) and Fibrus in the running.
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