Connected Nations 2015
High quality, widespread communications, fixed and mobile, are an engine of our economy and the pulse of our society.
They are not nice-to-haves, but essential enablers of our working and social lives.
As businesses and consumers drive an ever-increasing demand for communications, the infrastructure that serves them must keep pace with their demands and needs.
One of Ofcom’s roles is to make sure that the UK has the communications infrastructure it requires. This means making services available where people live and work; call connections being clear and robust; and data being down- and up-loaded at speeds that deliver a good experience.
Ofcom is also responsible for providing clear, accurate, easy to use information. This equips businesses and consumers to make informed decisions about the services that can serve them best.
The Connected Nations Report (previously called the Infrastructure Report) charts the UK’s evolving communications infrastructure, and our progress towards becoming genuinely connected nations.
Superfast broadband is available to more consumers than ever before, with both industry and Government investments driving improvements in coverage. However, 17% of consumer households and Small- and Medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) remain unable to take advantage of these services. While that number is likely to reduce over the coming few years, a significant proportion of homes and businesses will still be unable to receive superfast broadband without further action.
This section explores the coverage, performance and take-up of broadband. It highlights the divide between those with access to the best and worst broadband. Given the potential for this divide to exclude citizens, consumers and businesses from full participation in internet-based services that are now vital for many aspects of economic and social activity, we discuss the various current and possible future initiatives to improve broadband access for all.
The most important messages are:
- The coverage and speed of superfast broadband continue to increase. Around 83% of UK premises are now able to receive superfast broadband, up from 75% in 2014, and the average superfast download speed is now 65Mbit/s.
- Many consumers and SMEs are still unable to receive even standard speed broadband. In the UK as a whole, over 8% of premises cannot receive a speed greater than 10Mbit/s, rising to around 48% of premises in rural areas.
- This divide between the best and worst performing services suggests that intervention may be required to ensure that everyone has access to broadband. We believe that a download speed of at least 10Mbit/s is necessary to deliver an acceptable user experience.
- Evidence is now emerging that consumers who opt for higher speed services (>40 Mbps) on average consume more data as a result of using their service more intensively.
Mobile services are playing an increasingly important role in our daily lives. This has created a growing expectation that mobile devices will work reliably wherever we are, be it at home, work, in a car or out walking in the countryside. In this section we provide an update on the levels of mobile voice and data coverage being achieved in the different regions of the UK.
The key highlights are:
- 4G rollout: There has been a significant rollout of new. higher speed 4G networks which are now available in most major cities and towns;
- Rural coverage continues to lag urban coverage:Levels of mobile coverage in rural areas continue to be lower than in urban areas. A new study has shown this reflects the higher costs per user of providing coverage in less densely populated areas.
- Developments helping to improve mobile coverage: There have been three main developments over the last year which are helping improve mobile coverage:
- i) A new coverage obligation: Mobile operators agreed to achieve 90% geographic outdoor voice call coverage by the end of 2017.
- ii) Interactive coverage maps: We launched interactive mobile coverage maps, enabling consumers and businesses to compare the coverage provided by different mobile operators in the locations that are of most importance to them. In addition to allowing consumers to make more informed choices of mobile operator, it is anticipated that these maps will encourage mobile operators to further compete in providing better coverage.
- iii) Voice over Wi-Fi: All the mobile network operators now offer voice over Wi-Fi services. These new services are helping improve coverage in buildings with poor mobile coverage but good indoor Wi-Fi connectivity.
- Mobile data growth: The rate of growth in mobile data use continues to outstrip that on fixed broadband networks and grew by a factor of 64% over the past year.
Much of the preceding analysis in this report has focused on the availability and performance of the access networks that network operators use to provide connections to customers, either via direct fibre or copper physical line to the home for fixed networks, or through radio coverage from masts for mobile networks. In this section we explore the issues relating to the other parts of the internet connection chain linking consumers to online services.
Access networks now deliver an increasingly wide range of services, not just the traditional voice telephony and cable TV that many legacy networks were initially designed to deliver. In particular, consumers are increasingly using these networks to access a vast range of services available on the internet. These services now constitute the majority of traffic delivered over access networks. As a result, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the quality of their internet connection in addition to the performance of the more traditional services such as voice telephony.
Internet service providers (ISPs), often do not have full control over the full end to end internet connection chain to consumers and hence the delivered quality of internet services. In this section we explore a number of topics related to how ISPs are supporting the delivery of internet services over their networks including how they manage the flow of data over their networks and how they interconnect with other ISPs, content delivery networks and the wider internet. We also consider the effect of the performance of the ISP networks on the consumer and SME experience, and how ISPs manage the assignment of internet addresses to consumers’ equipment.
The key highlights are:
- ISPs are simplifying their consumer broadband packages and improving the information they provide to consumers about the use of traffic management on their networks. Meanwhile, a broader international debate is continuing to explore whether regulatory authorities require greater powers to protect consumers if damaging traffic management practices emerge.
- An increasing amount of internet data is being delivered to consumers by major video content providers. The use of content delivery networks (CDNs ) also continues to increase, with internet content increasingly being served from caching servers provided by the content providers which are embedded in the ISPs' access networks.
- The role played by different parts of the internet delivery chain on the consumer and SME experience of using online services are materially different for different ISPs and for different connection speeds.
- Larger-scale ISPs are likely to progressively introduce support for the latest IPv6 internet addressing system over the next 12 to 18 months.
As we increase our dependence on the nation’s communications infrastructure, the security and resilience of fixed, mobile and broadcast television networks and services become ever more important. This section summarises the major security and resilience issues that were reported to Ofcom over the past year.
Important points to note are:
- The majority of security incidents reported relate to voice services, often affecting consumer access to the 999 emergency services;
- The majority of incidents are caused by the failure of hardware components, the loss of power supply or by software bugs; and
- Incidents with an impact above one million customer-hours are uncommon, and are often the result of a unique and unexpected threat to security.
Communications infrastructure plays a range of vital roles in dealing with emergencies affecting the public. This infrastructure is evolving, largely as a result of the new technology which is affecting many other aspects of our lives. These changes bring great opportunities which can ultimately save more lives in the future, but they also mean some things we have become used to may function differently.
The key highlights are:
- Communications infrastructure is changing: some of the networks that support the lifeline offered by 999 calls are nearing the end of their serviceable lives. Similarly, the radios currently used by the Emergency Services to communicate among themselves are due to be replaced with very different technology over the next 5 years. Finally, the broadcast TV and radio platforms which can be used to communicate information to the public during emergencies are expected to gradually decline as new methods of content consumption continue to grow in importance.
- New technology brings new and potentially life-saving capabilities: although emergency communications may be not be a major design consideration for many of the replacement networks, some of their new features will be useful in emergency situations. Examples include precise caller location, data from a wide range of sensors and multimedia communications.
- Maximising these benefits while retaining reliability will be a challenge: while the features they offer may not be as rich, legacy networks are generally very reliable, widely available and well understood by the majority of consumers. Ensuring that their replacements can fulfil these important criteria, while at the same time allowing their new features to be exploited, will require a strategic approach to the future of the emergency communications. Government will need to weigh the wider societal benefits of increasing the resilience of these new platforms against the cost, and consider intervening if commercial deployment falls short of its public policy objectives.
There have been no significant changes in the coverage of traditional broadcast terrestrial, satellite and cable networks over the last year. However, the ways in which TV is consumed and delivered continues to evolve, in particular TV and video delivery over broadband networks. In this section we set out three key themes:
- Linear TV consumption remains strong: The way in which we watch TV is continuing to evolve with more viewing over the internet, but linear broadcast TV remains the overwhelmingly most important means of watching TV.
- TV and video delivery is placing increased capacity demands on fixed and mobile broadband networks: The growth in internet-delivered TV is having major implications for providers of fixed and mobile communications infrastructure. Video carried over fixed and mobile networks is growing rapidly and networks need to invest in providing more capacity for it.
- More hybrid TV platforms are becoming available: Traditional broadcast TV platforms are becoming more integrated with the internet. In particular: pay TV providers are connecting more of their customers to internet-delivered TV and the free-to-air Freeview platform has launched hybrid Freeview Play services.