4G mobile reaches nine in ten Welsh homes and offices

04 August 2016

  • Ofcom's Communications Market Report finds mobile coverage improving
  • Internet: half of users say they're 'hooked', with some taking a digital detox
  • TV: Broadcasters spending more on content for viewers in Wales

More than 90% of premises in Wales now have outdoor 4G coverage from one or more mobile networks, according to Ofcom's yearly report on the communications markets.

Ofcom's Communications Market Report (CMR) Wales 2016 reveals that Wales is catching up with the rest of the UK in the availability of 4G services.

Outdoor 4G premises coverage from one or more of the mobile operators stands at 90.1% in Wales, narrowing the gap between Scotland (92%), England (98.8%) and Northern Ireland (99.3%).1

Outdoor coverage of 4G services in Wales from all four mobile networks reached 43.9% in May 2016, up from just over 20% in 2015 (an increase of 23.9 percentage points). This compares with the UK figure of 71.3%.

In the past year, the proportion of adults in Wales using 4G services has almost doubled with more than four in ten (44%) now using a 4G mobile service, compared with 23% in 2015.

4G take-up in Wales is broadly consistent with the UK as a whole (48%) and Scotland (40%) but behind Northern Ireland (54%). The report reveals that take-up varies between urban areas and rural areas of Wales (49% vs 28%).

The challenges of mobile in Wales

The landscape in Wales, with its mountains and valleys coupled with areas of low population density, poses particular technical challenges for the provision of mobile signals.

The terrain is extremely challenging and makes the construction of mobile networks both costly and difficult. Today's report shows there is more work to be done on mobile coverage and quality of service in Wales.

The data2 shows that the proportion of Welsh premises with outdoor 2G coverage from at least one network in May 2016 was 98.4%. This still represents the lowest proportion across the UK nations (UK 99.6%).

In Wales, 98.6% of premises were in areas with outdoor 3G coverage in May 2016. The proportion of premises in Wales with outdoor coverage from all four 3G networks was 74.9% – the lowest across the UK nations, and significantly lower than the UK figure of 92.5%.

Today's report also highlights mobile users' satisfaction with their service; in 2015, users in urban areas were more likely than those in rural areas to say they were satisfied with their mobile reception (89% vs. 73%). Conversely, rural users were more likely than urban dwellers to be dissatisfied (18% vs. 5%).

Improvements are being made to extend mobile coverage in Wales. Rules put in place by Ofcom will ensure widespread availability of 4G data services in Wales by the end of 2017. In addition, an agreement reached between the UK Government and the mobile operators will also secure improvements in geographic voice coverage.3

Rhodri Williams, Ofcom's Director in Wales, said: “Mobile users in Wales are enjoying better mobile voice and data services than ever before, and progress is still being made.

“The topography of Wales makes it more difficult and costly to build communications infrastructure. So industry, regulators, planning authorities and landowners must continue working together to extend coverage further."

Two thirds have a smartphone

The CMR Wales also reports on mobile usage. People in Wales value their mobile phones to access the internet. When asked, almost six in ten (57%) said they had used their mobile phone to go online in the previous week – in line with those for the UK as a whole (62%).

Take-up of mobile phones reached nine in ten (91%) adults in 2016, bringing Wales in line with the UK (93%). Smartphone ownership among adults in Wales was lower than in the UK overall in 2016 (65% vs. 71%),4 although 36% of people in Wales cite their smartphone as their most important device for going online.

Tablet ownership in Wales (67% of households) was higher than the UK average (59%), and Northern Ireland, England, and Scotland (60%, 59% and 56% respectively). The most common activities carried out online by internet users in Wales are general surfing and browsing the web (87%) and sending and receiving email (86%).

People in Wales are also embracing newer online services, with instant messaging seeing the biggest rise in popularity. Over four in ten (43%) now use services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger at least once a week - up from 24% in 2014. Eight in 10 internet users in Wales (80%) agree that these new communications services have made life easier.

Connectivity creep and digital detoxing

Internet users in Wales spend 17.8 hours each week online, with almost half of adults (46%) feeling 'hooked' on their connected device, according to the CMR Wales.

Two in five internet users in Wales (39%) said they were guilty of 'connectivity creep' – spending longer online than they originally intended each day, while 30% said the same of social media.

As a result, a third (34%) neglected housework; 34% said they had missed out on sleep or were tired the next day; while 14% had missed out on spending time with friends and family. Our attachment to our connected devices is also getting in the way of face-to-face communication, according to the research.

Almost a third of adults in Wales (31%) felt they'd been 'smart-snubbed' (ignored by a friend or relative too engrossed in their smartphone or tablet) at least once a week; while 10% said this happened on a daily basis.

The research also suggests that just over a quarter of people in Wales (27%) are choosing to text or instant message friends and family instead of talking face-to-face, even though they're sitting in the same room at home.

People in Wales are, however, taking steps to strike a healthy balance between technology and life beyond the screen. Around three in ten internet users in Wales (28%) have sought a period of time offline to 'digitally detox', while three-quarters (74%) of parents had imposed rules on their children to limit their time online.

Spending on TV content for Wales viewers

Turning to television, the CMR finds that the BBC and ITV Wales spent more on new programme commissions for viewers in Wales last year - £28m in total, a rise of 4.5% from £27m in 2014. BBC and ITV Wales' spending on nations' and regions' output in Wales, including acquisitions and repeats, was up by 5% in nominal terms since 2014, and by 15% since 2010.

Spending on programming for viewers in Wales outside of news and current affairs increased by 14% in 2015, and by 28% since 2010. This was the highest five-year increase in non-current affairs/non-news programming in any UK nation.

However, spending on news fell by 3%, while spending on current affairs decreased by 7%, both of which had risen substantially in 2014. Compared to 2010, spending on current affairs was up by 11% in nominal terms, whereas spending on news was on a par with 2010 levels.

Welsh viewers' use of technology is also changing. Among those with a TV in the household, 33% claimed to have a smart TV set – increasing from 17% in 2015. Almost a third (30%) of adults in Wales watch paid on-demand content through services such as Netflix and Now TV on a weekly basis in 2016 – increasing from 13% since 2014.

Other market developments

Television

  • People in Wales spend an average of 4 hours 10 minutes per day watching broadcast TV - higher than Scotland (4 hours), Northern Ireland (3 hours 45 minutes) and the UK average (3 hours 36 minutes).
  • Ofcom's Digital Day study of total audio-visual viewing habits shows the almost nine in ten (88%) of people in Wales watched live TV in a typical week, with no change versus 2014 results, whereas the proportion of people watching paid on-demand services increased from 13% to 30%.5
  • Compared to the UK overall, over half of households in Wales receive satellite TV through their main TV set (53% vs. 40%). However households in Wales are less likely than the UK overall to have Freeview (28% vs. 34%) or cable TV (6% vs. 16%). Digital TV viewing through a broadband connection has risen from 5% in 2015 to 9% in 2016.

Telecoms

  • Take-up of broadband in Wales is in line with the UK overall (79% vs. 81%), and with each UK nation. There was also no difference between broadband take-up within urban and rural areas in Wales.
  • Adults in Wales with a mobile phone are more likely than in 2015 to be on a SIM-only contract (11% vs. 5%), although take-up of contracts with a handset or pre-pay/pay as you go contracts remain comparable to a year ago. The only difference seen in 2016 was among rural areas of Wales which are more likely than urban areas to be on a pre-pay/pay as you go contract (40% vs. 28%).

Radio

  • Radio services reached 93.6% of the population of Wales in 2015 and people in Wales listen to the radio for longer each week (22.1 hours) than the UK as a whole (21.4 hours).
  • The UK-wide BBC network radio services accounted for 51% of total listening hours in Wales, 5pp higher than the UK average. Wales was the only UK nation in which these services accounted for more than half of the share of total listening.
  • Listening to the BBC nations' services (BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru) accounted for 9% of listening, 2pp higher than the UK average for BBC local or nations services
  • Wales had the highest growth in local commercial radio revenue of any UK nation in 2015. On a per-capita basis, revenues increased by £1.32 or 9.4%.
  • The greatest year-on-year increase in content spend by the BBC on local/nations' radio was in Wales. Content spend on BBC Radio Wales increased by 7.1%, and 10.9% more was spent on BBC Radio Cymru.

Post

  • Adults in Wales send an average of 6.3 items each month, compared to 6.6 items each month in the UK overall.
  • Less than one in five (15%) adults in Wales said that they have not sent an item of post in the past month. This compares to 21% in the UK overall.
  • In Wales, over nine in ten adults (95%) say they are satisfied with the security of the service offered by Royal Mail. 86% of adults are also satisfied with the length of time that post takes to reach its destination.
  • More than one in five adults in Wales (21%) reported problems with lost mail in the past 12 months, more than in all the other nations - England (10%), Scotland (7%) and Northern Ireland (4%).

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Outdoor 4G coverage from one or more of the mobile operators across the UK as a whole was 97.8%. The signal strength thresholds used by Ofcom to determine where 2G, 3G and 4G mobile services are available differ from those used in last year's reports. As such, the mobile coverage data in this report are not comparable to those published last year. These thresholds may also differ from those used by MNOs in their reporting. UK urban and rural figures are also not comparable to those published in the 2015 report due to a change in the urban/rural classifications.
2. Data provided to Ofcom by the UK's three national 2G mobile network operators - Vodafone, O2 and EE.
3. The UK Government has secured an agreement with the mobile network operators to guarantee voice and text coverage across 90 per cent of the UK geographic area by the end of 2017.
4. This is a change since 2015, when levels of smartphone ownership in Wales and in the UK as a whole were comparable (63% vs. 66%).
5. Source: BARB, individuals aged 4 and above. Live, recorded and catch-up viewing up to seven days after broadcast.
6. This report will be updated later in 2016, when Ofcom has comparable data relating to the June 2016 availability of cable and fibre broadband services as well as superfast broadband. However, Ofcom's Connected Nations 2015 report showed that cable broadband was available to 21% of premises in Wales; fibre broadband was available to 83%; and 79% of premises in Wales could access superfast broadband.
7. In addition to making much of the data used in the report available to access, use and share as open data at www.ofcom.org.uk/opendata, we are also launching two interactive tools to allow additional analysis of consumer research data from our tracking surveys and our Digital Day research. These will be accessible at www.ofcom.org.uk/cmr