More people can get faster broadband, but some rural areas in Northern Ireland are still behind towns and cities for coverage – new data from Ofcom shows.
Ofcom’s annual Connected Nations report analyses the availability of broadband and mobile services across the UK and its nations. This year’s Northern Ireland report highlights further progress from industry in rolling out their networks, with more than 232,000 homes (31%) in Northern Ireland now having access to full fibre connections. Meanwhile, mobile networks have started launching 5G services.
The report shows the average download speed delivered to premises in Northern Ireland has increased from 43 Mbit/s in 2018 to 55 Mbit/s, reflecting increasing availability of faster broadband services.
Demand for getting online has also increased, with average monthly broadband data use in Northern Ireland going up from 240 GB per connection in 2018, to 322 GB in 2019 – the equivalent of watching up to four hours of HD video content a day.
But the report also reveals more work is needed to improve services in rural areas, where some customers experience slower speeds than those in towns and cities.
Ultrafast broadband. Today’s report also shows half of homes in Northern Ireland (49%) can get ultrafast broadband – up from 38% last year. These connections, which can be delivered over a combination of fibre and cable lines, offer download speeds of at least 300 Mbit/s.
Full fibre broadband. Around 232,000 homes (31%) in Northern Ireland can now get full fibre broadband – which offers download speeds of up to one gigabit per second (1 G bit/s). This has increased sharply from last year’s figure (12%), with 160,000 extra homes now able to access the latest broadband technology. Northern Ireland has the highest full fibre coverage of any UK nation.
Ofcom will shortly publish new plans to promote further investment in fibre networks – including in rural areas.
The vast majority of homes (89%) in Northern Ireland can now access superfast broadband, which offers download speeds of at least 30 Mbit/s – sufficient for most households’ current needs. However, availability of superfast broadband in rural areas, at 66%, is lower.
We expect superfast broadband coverage to increase as a number of UK-wide and Northern Ireland specific public sector initiatives are currently underway or about to commence, most notably Project Stratum.
Through this project, which is aimed at those unable to get superfast speeds, the Department for the Economy has identified 97,000 premises in Northern Ireland that will be eligible for a broadband boost.
The procurement for the £165m project was launched in July 2019 and contract award is anticipated in mid-2020.
In today’s smartphone society, being able to make calls and get online on the move is crucial to people’s personal and working lives. Today’s figures show 75% of the Northern Ireland’s land area is covered by good 4G reception from all four networks. And 97% of the country can get reliable 4G from at least one operator.
But there are stark differences in the level of choice available to customers in urban and rural areas. Ninety per cent of urban areas can get 4G coverage from all four operators, compared to 74% of rural areas.
However, rural mobile coverage is set to increase as a result of an industry project announced in October. Mobile operators have worked with Government and Ofcom on a plan to introduce a ‘shared rural network’. This will see high-quality 4G coverage reach 95% of the UK by 2025, as mobile companies share their existing masts and invest in new sites. We have provided technical advice on the plans.
5G – the fifth generation of mobile technology – launched in the UK this year, with all four mobile networks rolling out 5G across a total of 40 UK towns and cities.
Initially, 5G will be an enhanced version of 4G – offering faster speeds, more capacity and far fewer connection delays. But in the longer term it can support a host of innovative new services for mobile users and businesses, from farming to factories.
Jonathan Rose, Director at Ofcom Northern Ireland, said: “This year we’ve seen full fibre broadband grow at its fastest ever rate, and the first 5G services launched in Northern Ireland.
“But despite this good progress, there is more to do to bring all parts of the country up to speed– particularly rural areas. So we’re working with industry and the Government to help bring better services to people who need them.”