Superfast broadband reaches more of Scotland but many still unable to get decent speeds

16 December 2016

Superfast broadband coverage in Scotland has improved significantly over the last few years, new research by Ofcom has found.
  • 83% of properties in Scotland now able to get superfast broadband
  • Advice to Government on universal broadband service
  • Ofcom calls for radical plans to achieve universal mobile coverage
  • New app available from today to check both Wi-Fi and mobile signals

Speeds of 30 Mbit/s or more are now available to 83% of Scottish properties, up from 73% in 2015. This is the greatest increase in superfast coverage of all the UK’s nations.

The findings are part of Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2016 report – an in-depth look at the state of the UK’s telecoms and wireless networks. This year’s report shows good progress on the availability and take-up of communications services, which are crucial to people’s personal and working lives.

However, the report finds there is much more to do – particularly in boosting mobile and broadband coverage, and improving the quality of service provided by telecoms companies.

Many consumers in Scotland remain unable to access broadband with decent speeds.

Around 192,000 homes and offices in Scotland – or 7% of premises – remain unable to sign up for broadband speeds over 10 Mbit/s, the speeds required to meet a typical household’s digital needs. This is often because they are situated a long way from the local street cabinet or telephone exchange. This is down from 354,000, or 14%, last year.

To help close this speed gap, Ofcom has today set out its technical advice to the UK Government on implementing its plans, announced in 2015, for universal broadband.

Today’s Connected Nations report also presents the current level of mobile coverage across the country. While the picture is improving, with 4G reaching more premises, coverage still falls short and Ofcom wants to see better coverage across the UK’s landmass.

So we have begun discussions (PDF, 41.9 KB) with mobile operators to look at radical and ambitious solutions to deliver universal mobile coverage, to keep pace with consumers’ needs.

Achieving decent, universal broadband

The number of properties lacking access to decent broadband has fallen significantly in recent years, and is likely to fall further, given on-going investments by industry and Government.

But the universal service would ensure every home and small business in the country has the right to a decent, affordable broadband connection of 10 Mbit/s or above by the end of the current parliament.

Ofcom’s analysis shows that this speed is sufficient to meet the current needs of a typical household. The online activity of users who can access this speed is far less constrained than those who cannot.

However, households are likely to need greater speeds as new, data-hungry applications emerge. We will therefore monitor the universal service and recommend its minimum speed to rise when necessary.

The final design of the service will be decided by Government, and then implemented by Ofcom. We have today set out technical advice to inform the Government’s decisions on factors such as speed, eligibility, affordability and funding.

As part of this, we have scoped three potential scenarios – standard broadband offering
a 10 Mbit/s download speed; a more highly specified version of this service, including a 1Mbit/s upload speed; and a superfast broadband service.

Government has said its preference (PDF, 156.4 KB) is for the universal service to be funded by industry. Under this model, the companies providing the universal service would recover any unfair cost burden from a fund paid into by a range of telecoms companies.

Ofcom has also considered the need for universal broadband to reach the most vulnerable customers, including those on low incomes. There could be a need for a social tariff to provide affordable broadband for these customers, as there is for landline telephones today.(4)

More homes are now ‘superfast’

The coverage and quality of broadband across the UK has increased significantly over the past year, the Connected Nations report finds.

The average download speed of a broadband service in Scotland increased from 27 Mbit/s to 35 Mbit/s. This reflects not only better coverage, but also people choosing to pay for faster broadband packages.

However, take up of superfast broadband remains relatively low despite the increase in availability. 27% of homes and offices in Scotland have an active superfast broadband connection compared to 83% availability.

The increase in the availability of superfast broadband has been driven by BT upgrading its network; Virgin Media converting more homes to faster packages; the UK Government’s on-going Broadband Delivery UK programme and the Scottish Government’s Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme.

Superfast services are now available to 73% of small and medium sized enterprises in Scotland – a considerable increase from 55% in 2015.

Steve Unger, Ofcom Group Director, said: “Mobile and broadband coverage continued to grow this year, but too many people and businesses are still struggling for a good service. We think that is unacceptable.

“So we’re challenging mobile operators to go beyond built-up areas, and provide coverage across the UK’s countryside and transport networks. Today we’ve also provided technical advice to support the Government’s plans for universal, decent broadband.”

Mobile reveals a mixed picture

Mobile coverage has also improved in the last year. Mobile voice services from all four operators can be accessed in 84% of Scottish premises while 75% now have access to mobile data services.

However, it can be difficult to access mobile voice services in many areas of Scotland. Scottish consumers are unable to access mobile voice services from all four operators in approximately two thirds of Scotland's landmass (geographic voice coverage from all four operators increased to 36% from 29% in 2015). This should increase further following an agreement between the Government and all major operators to achieve better geographic coverage of voice services across the UK by the end of 2017.

4G rollout in Scotland has so far focused on urban areas. Geographic coverage of 4G networks from all four operators has increased to 12%, from 2% in 2015, but Scotland still lags behind the rest of the UK (40% in 2016). Ofcom rules mean that O2 must deliver a mobile data service to 98% of UK premises, and at least 95% in each of the nations, by the end of next year.

Mobile phone users increasingly need coverage everywhere, so Ofcom is examining how regulation can help make that happen, and has called on network operators (PDF, 41.9 KB) to go beyond current targets by exploring options for reaching areas without premises – such as transport lines and remote locations.

International comparisons

Ofcom has also published its International Communications Market Report 2016, which compares communications services in 19 major countries.

Among these, the UK has the fifth best availability of broadband services offering 10 Mbit/s or above – ahead of almost all European countries, but behind Singapore, Japan, South Korea and the Netherlands.

The UK also performs well on the availability of broadband connections involving fibre optic cables – such as fibre running to the street cabinet – ranking fifth behind the Netherlands, South Korea, Japan and Singapore.

However, Ofcom remains concerned that the UK has very low coverage of ‘full fibre’ broadband, where cable and fibre lines connect directly to homes and offices. Here the UK ranks seventeenth out of 19 countries. To address this, Ofcom is requiring BT to allow other providers to use its infrastructure to build their own fibre networks, directly to premises.

The UK performs well on prices, ranking second – out of five major European countries, plus the USA – for the cheapest communication services. Low prices in the UK were largely driven by cheaper mobile phone services, particularly for tariffs that include a high data allowance.

Check your mobile and broadband today

People can check whether their mobile reception and home broadband connections are giving them the best service, using the new version of Ofcom’s app for smartphones and tablets, launched today.

The Ofcom Mobile and Broadband checker now checks the performance of the user’s mobile reception, as well as their home broadband. If the app finds a problem with either, it will explain possible causes and provide practical troubleshooting advice.

The app also shows voice, 3G or 4G coverage from all major network operators, both indoors and outdoors, at any location in the UK – allowing people to compare which network offers the best service in places such as the home or office. Broadband availability and speed information is available using address-level data for the first time.

The app is free to download and available for both Apple and Android devices from the Apple App Store or Google Play. It is also available as a web based version for desktop and laptop devices.

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

  1. Other technical characteristics for Scenario 2: latency (medium response time), maximum sharing between customers (a ‘contention ratio’ of 50:1), and a defined data cap based on current usage profiles (100GB per month).
  2. Other technical characteristics for Scenario 3: fast response times, a ‘committed information rate’ of 10Mbit/s (i.e. guaranteed 10Mbit/s at all times) and an unlimited usage cap.
  3. These estimates are based on broadband delivered via a mix of networks, but mainly fibre and copper lines.
  4. Ofcom is concerned that people who buy landline services on their own are not being served well by the market. So earlier this month we announced a review of the retail market for standalone landline telephone services, to ensure that customers receive value for money.
  5. Ofcom has today also published its ‘Smartphone Cities’ report, which compares the 4G mobile network performance of the UK’s four national mobile providers – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. Testing was carried out in seven cities across the UK – Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Sheffield and Southampton – between July and October 2016.

CONTACTS

Media
Jonathan Ruff
Jonathan.Ruff@ofcom.org.uk
0131 2207 302