● UK communications infrastructure is changing, Ofcom report shows
● Britons' use of public Wi-Fi hotspots increases three-fold
● Mobile coverage on UK roads revealed for first time
Superfast broadband is now available to almost three quarters of UK homes, and the number of people using the technology has more than doubled in the last year, Ofcom has revealed.
The trends reflect wider changes in the UK's communications infrastructure, which is evolving to meet consumers' growing demand for data, both at home and on the move.
Ofcom's annual Infrastructure Report update, published today, shows that in June this year 73% of UK premises could receive superfast broadband, up from 65% in 2012. Some 22% of broadband connections are superfast, up from 10% last year. Around 4.8m UK customers have taken up the technology, up from 2.1m last year.*
In total, 650m gigabytes of data were sent or received by UK internet users over fixed lines in the single month of June - an increase of 26% over the same month last year, and an amount of data equivalent to more than one billion copies of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
The growth in data usage is set to continue, as superfast networks are rolled out further, and consumers demand higher speeds to support high-quality internet TV services and multiple devices on their broadband connection.
Twice as many hotspots
As well as indoors, people are increasingly demanding faster connection speeds when out and about. 4G networks are helping to meet this demand. Several operators - EE, O2 and Vodafone - have now launched 4G services, while Three is expected to join them in the coming months.
Today's report shows that consumers are also making far greater use of public Wi-Fi ‘hotspots' - which allow them to access fixed-line internet via their mobile devices in places such as restaurants, hotels, banks, supermarkets and coffee shops.
The number of public Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the UK doubled over the year to 34,000 (from 16,000). And the amount of data being sent or received by consumers in these hotspots almost trebled, to almost 2m gigabytes in a month - up from 0.75m gigabytes during the same month in 2012.
Mobile coverage on roads revealed
For the first time in the report, Ofcom has analysed coverage of mobile voice (2G) and voice-plus-data (3G) services on UK roads. While coverage for voice calls on motorways is good, there are gaps in coverage on 'A' and 'B' roads, particularly for 3G data services.
Ofcom estimates that just 35% of the length of the UK’s A and B roads are served by all four 3G networks, and 9% has no 3G coverage at all. This shortfall should in part be addressed by the roll-out of 4G services, but Ofcom will be carrying out further analysis in the coming year to examine whether regulatory or Government intervention may also be required to achieve wider mobile coverage on roads.1
Ofcom will also examine mobile coverage on major rail routes over the coming year. Once this data has been collected, Ofcom will offer technical advice to the Department for Transport and Network Rail on how mobile coverage on railways might be improved.2
Meeting the demand for data
The rapid growth in superfast broadband, the arrival of 4G mobile and the doubling of public Wi-Fi hotspots are all part of an emerging picture of soaring consumer demand for data-hungry services.3
As higher speeds become the norm, Ofcom believes the challenge is to focus on wider coverage for consumers, including those in hard-to-reach areas. Ofcom will also be conducting work aimed at ensuring wider coverage does not come at the expense of service quality.
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: "Superfast broadband is rolling out fast across the country, and 4G mobile will reach at least 98% of the population. This is really good news but there remain considerable challenges, not least in hard-to-reach areas for mobile and home internet services.
"We know consumers increasingly expect superfast speeds, but it's also important to make sure people can connect over a very wide area. That is why we are doing everything we can to support moves to improve coverage in difficult areas such as roads and train lines.
To coincide with today's report, Ofcom has also today updated its communications coverage maps, which show the availability of fixed broadband, digital radio, digital TV and mobile services across the UK.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. Ofcom is continuing to support the Government's Mobile Infrastructure Project, which is aimed at improving mobile coverage and quality in the UK. The Government has allocated £150m to secure mobile voice services for up to 60,000 premises that currently do not receive a mobile service from any operator, and to improve coverage on at least ten of the UK’s busiest A roads.
2. Last month, the Government announced a plan to roll out high-speed mobile broadband on the busiest parts of the rail network, with passengers expected to begin noticing improvements to their journey during 2015.
3. Last year, Ofcom unveiled plans to enable the release of new airwaves for future generations of mobile devices, which will help meet consumers’ growing demand and avoid a future 'capacity crunch'.
4. Under section 134A of the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom has a duty to prepare reports for the Secretary of State on certain networks and services available in the UK every three years. * Ofcom and the European Union define SFBB services as those delivering download speeds of 30Mbit/s or more.