The United Kingdom depends on various infrastructures, and one of the most important is the nation’s communications.
Fast, reliable communications enable businesses to generate prosperity and employment, and our countries to compete. They empower every citizen to take a full part in society and benefit from life’s opportunities. Communications also save lives, bind families and friends together, and keep us entertained.
Part of Ofcom’s role is to make sure that, as far as possible, we can make the calls we want to, where we need to, and that we can use the internet at acceptable speeds.
This annual report tracks the communications providers’ progress in growing the availability of good communications, and how the UK is working towards a robust and visionary next generation of services.
Over the course of 2016, the UK took another step forward in the coverage of its fixed and mobile communications. More people are, or can be, connected to the communications they need, and they are consuming more data as fixed and mobile services become increasingly woven into the fabric of their daily lives and work.
But it would be wrong to infer that the picture is universally a rosy one. For a significant number of consumers, and in many parts of the country, fixed broadband speeds are slow and mobile coverage is poor or indeed non-existent. Ofcom is therefore continuing to work with industry, the UK Government and the devolved administrations to explore ways to improve the availability and performance of these vital communications services.
A key part of this work is this annual Connected Nations Report; a ‘state of the union’ update on the coverage and performance of fixed broadband and mobile services that the UK’s consumers and small businesses are receiving. We also cover important developments in broadcasting and internet services and track security incidents that affect communications networks and services.
Below we present the highlights of this year’s findings, and expand on them further in the remainder of the report.
Download the Executive Summary PDF, 1.0 MB
Under the Communications Act 2003 ('the Act') Ofcom is required to submit a report to the Secretary of State every three years, describing the state of the electronic communications networks and services in the UK. We published the first report in 2011 and the second report in 2014.
However, we recognised after publishing the first report that some aspects of the communications infrastructure were developing rapidly and/or were of particular interest to Government and industry stakeholders, and therefore committed to providing updates on an annual basis. These updates have mainly focused on the areas of greatest change, such as coverage and capacity of fixed and mobile networks. This year's Connected Nations Report updates the report published in December 2015.
Download the Background to the report PDF, 152.4 KB
The quality and reach of fixed broadband infrastructure in the UK has advanced considerably over the last few years, both in terms of technology and services offered. Superfast broadband is now available to almost 90% of homes and small businesses across the UK and continuing investment by industry and Government will ensure further increases in coverage over the next few years.
This section explores the coverage and performance of fixed broadband services in the UK and highlights how consumers are using their broadband connections to send and receive more data than ever before. We note, however, that many consumers still cannot access adequate broadband speeds and highlight ongoing Government and industry initiatives aimed at improving the quality of broadband services for all.
The most important messages are:
Mobile services are playing an increasingly important role in our daily lives. This means consumers increasingly expect their mobile devices to work reliably wherever they are, whether at home, at work, or on the move. In this section we provide an update on the levels of mobile voice and data coverage achieved in different parts of the UK as of June 2016, and the total amount of mobile data being consumed. We also discuss the minimum levels of mobile signal needed to make a good quality voice call and how these relate to the mobile operators’ geographic coverage targets for voice call services.
The key highlights are:
Download the Mobile voice and data services section PDF, 914.3 KB
The fixed and mobile services discussed in the preceding two sections of this report are used predominantly for the delivery of internet access services. In this section we touch on some of the issues relating to how these services link consumers to the online services and content they wish to access and, in particular, on the increasing role of regulators and policy makers in ensuring that these services operate in an equitable and open way.
These services now constitute the majority of traffic delivered over access networks and consumers have become increasingly reliant on them for both economic and social activity. 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. Policy makers have recognised this and taken steps to ensure that all sources of content continue to be generally available to all end users and that particular services or classes of service are not unduly favoured unless justifiably necessary.
In this section we report on how internet service providers (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 touch on how the new regulatory regime for internet access services aimed at ensuring “net neutrality” is being delivered.
The highlights are:
Download the Internet access services section PDF, 285.6 KB
As consumers and businesses become even more dependent on communications services, our duties with regard to network resilience become increasingly important. Overall, while network failure incidents are not significantly increasing in volume or impact, underlying changes in network technology have implications for consumers that need an appropriate regulatory and policy response. This section summarises the major security and resilience issues that were reported to Ofcom over the past year and the key issues that need addressing in the near future.
Key themes are:
Download the Security and resilience section PDF, 231.4 KB
The means by which television services are distributed and consumed have continued to evolve over the last year. Increasingly, broadcast and broadband delivery technologies are being brought together by more sophisticated consumer receiver equipment to provide consumers with a hybrid viewing experience. There has also been a continuation of the move towards higher resolution, more lifelike TV formats, with UHD (ultra high definition) content now available on some broadcast and broadband delivery platforms.
In this section we set out three key themes:
This interactive dashboard is intended to act as an interactive executive summary for the 2016 Connected Nations report.
Find out how we're working with major broadband providers to improve the quality of coverage information available to consumers.