Bordering London to the north west and containing the major towns of Maidstone, Gillingham, Dartford, Chatham and Royal Tunbridge Wells, not to mention the historic city of Canterbury (surprisingly, the county’s only city), you’d be forgiven for thinking that with so many urban areas, the situation regarding broadband in Kent is probably fairly healthy. After all, London aside, it’s the fifth most populated county in England.
But it’s still a very rural area, with all the complications that can bring – not for nothing has the county long been known as ‘the garden of England’. Any casual glance at a map reveals the heart of the county to still be made up of rural, and largely protected areas such as the Kent Downs and the ancient landscapes of the Kent Weald. This despite the presence of the M20 motorway connecting London to the port of Dover.
With over four hundred small villages, it’s perhaps not so surprising how drawn out the delivery of superfast broadband in some of Kent’s more isolated nooks and crannies has proven to be. For example, as recently as 2022 Ofcom, the government’s communication watchdog, listed the Folkestone and Hythe district as having the highest population by percentage in the UK who are unable to access what it refers to as ‘decent’ broadband speeds. Not much of an accolade.
This contrast, from urban areas that are practically suburbs of Europe’s biggest city through to quite isolated villages, means all kinds of broadband are available. Residents of all the main towns can access Fibre to the Premises (or FTTP broadband) – that’s the newest generation of ‘fixed-line’ connection, which basically means you’re connected to the internet directly from a fibre optic cable running into your home or business premises. Currently available FTTP speeds can reach 1Gbps, which is very, very quick. You’ll find these services are often now referred to as ‘full fibre’.
Also still widely on offer is the previous generation Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC broadband) – again, as the name implies it’s using fibre optics, so it can be still be fast, but it’s slowed down dramatically by that last leg from your local cabinet still being served by traditional copper telephone lines. So speeds can’t really get above 70Mbps. However, it is often significantly cheaper.
FTTC is being gradually phased out, so, even if it is technically still available to you, many providers will be steering potential customers towards an FTTP service. In theory, it won’t be available to anyone after 2027.
Assuming all is well, this switch-off shouldn’t affect most properties in Kent, but if the rollout of FTTP hasn’t reached outlying areas, there will be (and are) several alternative solutions available. One such option, and possibly the simplest, is mobile broadband. Essentially, if you get a reasonable mobile phone signal, that same system can provide dedicated mobile broadband. Providers include Vodafone, O2 and Three, with the latter probably offering the best value. Bear in mind though, if your signal is patchy, your broadband will be too, so if you’re streaming movies or trying to work from home, it can prove frustrating.
Other options for users in the Kent area include joining a local wireless network or subscribing to satellite broadband, both of which can be pricey, with satellite services sometimes having download limits and slow uploads. Which isn’t surprising given that your equipment needs to send your data 22,000 miles into space!
Speed tests are an average taken in and around the Kent area from various internet providers.
|Average download speed
|Average upload speed
The breadth of options is really wide in Kent, which isn’t surprising really considering the contrast between heavily populated urban areas and the more rural regions. Most commonly available in Kent is fixed line, fibre broadband from the UK’s big providers such as BT (and their sister companies Plusnet and EE Broadband), Sky (who also own NOW Broadband), Vodafone, TalkTalk and Shell Energy (who have entered the market relatively late but expanded quite aggressively).
The elephant in the room we haven’t mentioned here is Virgin Media. Over the years they’ve expanded their network to the point that it now covers over half of UK households. But it is their system, and completely separate to the Openreach network used by every other main UK provider. If you’re lucky enough to be in a connected area – and most of the main towns in Kent are – then you can access speeds of over 1Gbps. That’s far more than most broadband users in Kent would need, and it’s expected that could soon double as new technology is rolled out.
Many areas of the UK have their own local initiatives to help promote the rollout of broadband and encourage digital inclusion in their area, and here it’s Digital Kent. Set up in 2021 by Kent County Council, its partners include Ashford, Canterbury, Dartford, Dover, Gravesham, Maidstone, Medway, Sevenoaks, Folkestone and Hythe councils along with involvement from the NHS and the European Union. In recent years Digital Kent has been allocated around £12.5m in funding which has been in part been directed towards helping raise awareness of the broadband options available to residents.
Aside from the services provided by the national providers, those options include local companies such as West Malling based Trooli Broadband and Invictanet, who are headquartered in Ashford. One other interesting option is Broadband For Rural Kent (otherwise known as B4RK), located in Faversham. They can provide Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services which can be a great ‘last resort’ for users who can’t access reliable fibre or mobile broadband connections.
Giving a full account of broadband speeds across Kent is obviously something we can’t fully cover here. It would be simply impossible. However, we’ll try to at least touch on a few of the main towns.
Dartford, perhaps not surprisingly given it’s proximity to London, is very well connected – most people can access speeds of around 1Gbps if they choose to. That’s pretty good, and may make it the best connected town in the county. Sevenoaks, Ramsgate and Margate also all offer good connections.
Residents of Deal can access good connections, but to illustrate how varied the picture can still be, neighbouring Dover isn’t nearly as well served, particularly for higher end FTTP services.
As touched on previously, most towns are reasonably well connected as far as the basics are concerned, but if you live in Gravesend, Gillingham, Ashford or Folkestone you’ll find very few addresses can access those faster FTTP speeds.
As for those more rural areas, there are of course many instances of poor connections, as the example of areas around Folkestone and Hythe demonstrates. It’s the area of the county with the greatest percentage of residents only able to 10Mbps, or even less.
Overall, it can’t really be said that when it comes to broadband, Kent is the worst-served county in the country. And given its location in the affluent south east or England, you wouldn’t expect it to be. But there are still many pockets where either the fastest fibre connections are still unavailable, or, in some cases, a connection that even Ofcom would describe as ‘decent’.