Ofcom has today outlined the future challenges in ensuring the UK’s communications infrastructure serves the growing needs of consumers and businesses.
The UK is making good progress in the roll-out and take-up of key communications services, according to Ofcom’s Infrastructure Report 2014, an in-depth look at the UK’s telecoms, broadcasting and wireless networks.
However, the report recognises that there is still more to do, particularly in improving broadband and mobile availability and quality of service for consumers and businesses across the UK.
Although the overall availability and quality of broadband services is getting better, Ofcom’s report identifies four specific challenges:
The Government and industry are looking at a range of options that might provide superfast broadband to the ‘final 5%’ of UK premises. While this is technically complex and expensive, it is important that these remaining homes and businesses are not left behind.
Some urban areas, including parts of central London, also have poor superfast broadband coverage. City not-spots are generally caused when there is no street cabinet to upgrade, because a customer has a direct connection to the local telephone exchange. Communications providers are looking at ways to take fibre closer to the customer where there is no cabinet.
Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) make a substantial contribution to the economy so it important they have high quality broadband. But a lower proportion of SMEs have access to superfast broadband compared to UK premises as a whole. Ofcom has a major programme of work to assess how to support the needs of SMEs.
Looking further ahead, industry and policy makers are considering what networks are needed to support speeds of a gigabit per second (1Gbit/s), commonly referred to as ultrafast broadband. The UK is seeing some early deployments of ultrafast broadband and more consideration is needed on how to build on this.
There is more work to be done on mobile coverage and quality of service. As well as imposing a licence obligation that will ensure 4G coverage reaches 98% of premises, Ofcom is preparing to auction additional spectrum that is likely to be used by mobile operators to improve capacity.
More widely, the Government has committed £150m to bring mobile coverage to unserved households, and is now exploring other policy measures to improve coverage on which Ofcom is providing technical advice.
Today’s infrastructure Report also provides new data on mobile coverage by provider. Such information is designed to support consumers in choosing a service that best suits their needs and can encourage providers to improve their performance.
People can check their local broadband, mobile, TV and radio coverage using a simple, powerful online tool launched by Ofcom today.
The Ofcom Interactive Map provides a single-stop for consumers and businesses to discover the quality of the communications infrastructure in areas where they live and work, or somewhere they intend to move.
Users can zoom to a specific location on a UK map, or simply enter a place name or postcode, to receive comprehensive data on:
All the data shown on the maps was taken in June 2014, and will be updated annually by Ofcom.
The Interactive Map is launched alongside today’s Ofcom Infrastructure Report 2014.
The report finds that a typical UK household may now need a connection offering at least 10 Mbit/s to support its internet activities, as the amount of data consumed over residential broadband is growing at an unprecedented rate.
Ofcom has found the average UK household or small business is downloading 53 Gigabytes (GB) of data on their fixed broadband line every month - equivalent to 35 feature films, and a 77% increase on 2013. The average home is also uploading 7 GB of data to the internet each month, equivalent to 3,500 digital photographs.
The growth is being driven not only by increasing use of high-bandwidth servicessuch as video streaming, but also the roll-out of faster connections supporting multiple users. On connections slower than 10 Mbit/s, performance these web activities may be impaired. Video streaming, in particular, can work less well when there are simultaneous demands on bandwidth from different devices in the home.
The use of ‘voice over IP’ services, such as Skype or Apple Facetime, has risen from 22% of adults in 2012 to 35% this year. New services are becoming available that allow mobile phone users to make a call easily over the internet, just as they do over the mobile network.
The average mobile owner's data usage has increased by 55% since last year, to around 1.5 GB per month.. It is forecast to increase four-fold between 2013 and 2018, driven by consumers using devices such as tablets, e-readers and mobile phones on developing 4G networks.
This is one example of how UK mobile coverage continues to improve. Today’s report shows that EE, which launched 4G services in October 2012, currently has the highest coverage of the four national 4G networks (70% of premises). O2 and Vodafone launched their 4G services after Ofcom completed its spectrum auction in February 2013, and both now cover 51% of premises.
After years of consecutive growth, the number of TV households fell from 26.33m at the end of 2012 to 26.02m at the end of 2013, as viewers increasingly turn to alternative devices. There are now nearly one million homes with broadband but no TV. Catch-up content in particular is growing in importance and being consumed on devices such as tablets, smartphones, computers and games consoles.
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Digital infrastructure is crucial to the UK’s future. As a country we are continuing to make real progress, particularly in the roll out and take-up of superfast broadband and 4G mobile services. But there is more to be done. We need to continue asking whether collectively we are doing enough to build the infrastructure of the future, and to maintain the competition that benefits consumers and businesses.
"Our new interactive map is a simple way for people to check coverage for a range of services which are increasingly important in their lives. The way consumers interact with their TV, phone and broadband is changing as fast as technology is evolving. Our challenge is to keep supporting competition and innovation, while also helping to improve coverage across the country - particularly in hard-to-reach areas where mobile and home internet services need to improve.”