Mobile coverage improving but rural Wales lacks decent service
- Mobile coverage is improving, but the rate of improvement is slow
- Superfast broadband is available to 89% of premises in Wales
- Consumers can check for broadband and mobile problems using enhanced app
Mobile coverage in Wales has improved in the past year, but there is a lot more work to do before voice and data services match those available in other parts of the UK.
The findings are part of Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2017 report – an in-depth look at telecoms and wireless networks in the UK and its Nations. This year’s report continues to show good progress on the availability and take-up of communications services, which are crucial to people’s personal and working lives.
Ofcom has changed the way we measure mobile coverage, to reflect the growing usage and expectations of smartphone users. Today’s devices receive far more data, but also require stronger signals, than older phones.
We have raised our requirements for what constitutes coverage, using new crowd-sourced information from thousands of handsets to capture mobile users’ real experiences.
This means people can get the most accurate ever picture of mobile coverage, using Ofcom’s interactive maps and smartphone app, which have been updated today. These tools provide clear, detailed information on the availability of mobile calling, text and data services in different parts of the country.
Outdoor premises voice coverage by all four operators has reached 93% in Wales (98% UK) from 89% in 2016 (96% UK), while geographic voice coverage by all four operators increased to 62% (88% UK). Geographic all-operator data coverage has increased by 25 percentage points to 52% (63% UK).
People in rural areas still struggle to get a strong signal, and Wales has the biggest urban-rural divide for outdoor geographic voice coverage in the UK. Urban areas show some 93% of urban landmass is covered but only 58% of rural Wales. The divide gets bigger for 4G coverage where 62% of urban Wales is covered, a rise of 35 percentage points from 2016, but only 19% in rural areas.
Today’s report contains data on the availability of mobile service on some key Welsh roads. Voice coverage on the A470 is 49% well below the UK average for A and B roads (68%). Coverage for mobile data services is 29% below the UK average of 58%. The A483 has above-average voice coverage (65%), but significantly below average data coverage (38%).
There remain areas in Wales with no mobile coverage at all. In geographic terms, 9% of Wales is not covered by a data service from any operator, and 8% is without a voice service from any operator.
Rhodri Williams, Ofcom’s Director in Wales said “Our findings show that plans to improve mobile coverage in Wales needs to gather pace. It’s important everyone who has a part to play in the process of improving mobile coverage work together so that consumers in Wales get the mobile services they expect and that are comparable to the rest of the UK.
"Given Wales’ topography and population distribution, there are unique requirements for network infrastructure that must be met for Wales to keep pace with the rest of the UK.”
While these figures show improvements, we are calling for further investment from mobile providers to improve coverage.
Ofcom is also taking direct action, including:
- Setting new requirements in operators’ licences. Early next year we will consult on detailed plans to improve coverage in rural areas, by setting coverage obligations on mobile airwaves being released in future. The requirements would be written into licences of operators who are awarded ‘700 MHz’ frequencies, which are suitable for providing strong coverage over very wide areas.
- Enforcing existing obligations. Mobile operators are already required to provide calls-and-text coverage to 90% of the UK landmass by the end of this month, while O2 must provide an indoor 4G signal to at least 98% of premises by the same time. We will report on mobile companies’ compliance with these obligations early next year, and any possible enforcement action if they fall short.
- Increasing network capacity. In July, we announced plans to auction more airwaves this year to improve current mobile capacity, as well as frequencies for future 5G services. The auction is currently subject to legal appeal by BT/EE and Three, which we hope can be resolved promptly in the interests of mobile users.
- Helping to improve coverage on trains. Ofcom has recently installed equipment on Network Rail’s engineering train. This will build a detailed picture of actual mobile reception across the UK’s rail network, informing our work with Government to help improve coverage.
- Working with Government. We are also helping to implement new planning laws that will make it easier for mobile operators to improve coverage by sharing and installing equipment, such as mobile masts.
- Extending use of signal boosters. In October we decided to allow controlled, unlicensed use of mobile phone ‘repeaters’, which amplify signals between a mobile phone and the operators’ transmitter. The changes come into effect early next year.
Superfast broadband is available to 89% of premises in Wales
Three years ago, superfast broadband - defined by Ofcom as a download speed of 30 Mbit/s or more was only available to 55% of premises in Wales – the lowest of any nation in the UK, and 20 percentage points lower than the UK average at the time.
This figure now stands at 89% of premises in Wales, compared to 85% in 2016 and to the UK figure of 91%. This follows the Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru programme, which has received financial support from the UK Government and the European Union.
The Welsh Government is considering options for further investment to extend broadband availability to those premises that fall beyond commercial and public funded deployments to date.
Achieving decent, universal broadband
Today’s report shows broadband remains worse in rural areas, where premises are often situated a long way from the telephone exchange or local street cabinet. Around 19% of rural premises in Wales (UK 17%) are not getting speeds of 10Mbit/s or more, compared to just 1% in urban areas.
As of June 2017, 5% of premises in Wales do not have access to broadband with at least 10Mbit/s (71,000 premises). Ceredigion and Powys has the worst availability of broadband capable of 10Mbit/s or more, with 19% of premises in Ceredigion, and 18% in Powys, unable to access these services.
However, rural Wales saw the largest improvement in superfast broadband coverage, seeing an increase of ten percentage points to 66% since last year. Full-fibre coverage to residential premises is amongst the highest in Wales (3%) compared to the other nations in the UK. Rural coverage is especially high, with 9% of premises having access to this technology.
Ofcom is also taking a range of steps to help improve broadband coverage and speeds, including:
- Promoting industry-wide investment in full-fibre networks. These connections can deliver far quicker, more reliable broadband. Ofcom is making it easier and cheaper for competitors to lay their own ultrafast networks using BT’s network of telegraph poles and underground ducts.
- Supporting plans for universal broadband. Ofcom has provided technical advice to the Government on its plans for homes and businesses across the country – including in rural and remote areas – to have the right to request a broadband connection with a download speed of at least 10 Mbit/s, and an upload speed of at least 1 Mbit/s.
- Ensuring better information for customers. Broadband shoppers must receive better information about speeds before they commit to a contract, and can walk away from their contract if speeds fall below a guaranteed minimum. New protections were set out by Ofcom in October.
Today’s Connected Nations report includes a case study on Tregroes in the Teifi valley in Ceredigion, which compares the availability of communication services in rural Wales and Tregroes. It highlights the fact that the average percentage of premises in rural Wales currently considered a not-spot for indoor voice and data coverage is 2%, but the figure for Tregroes is 44%.
An enhanced mobile and broadband checker app
People can check whether their mobile reception and home broadband connections are giving them the best service, using the newly enhanced version of Ofcom’s app for smartphones and tablets, launched today.
The Ofcom Mobile and Broadband Checker 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 is available for download in Welsh.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- Our measures define coverage as the local mobile reception being strong enough to allow:
- Nearly all 90 second voice calls to be completed without interruption; and
- Speeds for nearly all data connections to be fast enough for users to browse the internet and watch mobile video effectively.
- The Connected Nations report draws on data from May/June 2017.