This is Ofcom’s annual, in-depth look at the coverage of broadband and mobile networks of the UK and its Nations.
As communications play an increasingly critical role in our lives, the supporting infrastructure must keep pace with the needs of people and businesses.
Part of Ofcom’s role is to help ensure that people across the UK can access a decent internet service, and make phone calls where and when they need to.
This annual report tracks communications providers’ progress in increasing the availability of good communications, and how the UK’s networks are responding to changing needs of people and businesses.
This report outlines the main developments in coverage and performance of fixed broadband and mobile networks, as well as network security and resilience. Alongside this report, we have published reports summarising the findings for the four UK nations. We have also updated our mobile coverage checker app for smartphones and tablets, and our online visualisation tool, to help people find out more about the availability of fixed broadband and mobile services.
Since we published our first report on these services in 2011, coverage has grown and people and businesses are better connected. But in too many areas coverage is still poor, broadband speeds are slow, and mobile services are unreliable or not available. Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Digital Communications led to a number of policies aimed at addressing these problems; our Connected Nations reports help us to monitor progress.
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 recognised, at that time, that some aspects of the communications infrastructure were developing rapidly and/or were of particular interest to Government and industry stakeholders. We therefore committed to providing updates on an annual basis, focusing on the areas of greatest change, such as coverage and capacity of fixed and mobile networks.
For fixed broadband services, this report considers services provided to residential consumers and to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). We use data gathered from the largest operators in each sector, as well as information already held by Ofcom. Where possible we have re-used data already provided to Ofcom, in order to minimise the burden on stakeholders. We have also gathered data from a number of smaller network providers, including some providers of fibre to the premises (FTTP) and fixed wireless access (FWA) networks.
Fixed broadband connections are becoming ever more important, as consumers and businesses rely on this connectivity for work and for entertainment. Superfast broadband rollout is continuing, and now has coverage to 91% of homes and small businesses. Rural areas in particular have seen great improvements in coverage over the past year as superfast rollout extends to harder to reach areas, but remains significantly lower than in urban areas.
This section reports on the coverage, performance and usage of fixed broadband services in the UK and the nations, including the speed of broadband services and the amount of data that are used on these connections. It also explores where consumers do not have access to faster speeds and the reasons why.
Our expectation of mobile services is changing as we become more dependent on mobile services and need to access them wherever we are – indoors, outdoors or on the move. At the same time the devices we use to access mobile services have changed, with increasing take-up of smartphones and tablets, which require stronger signals than older, simpler phones.
We have therefore carried out an extensive programme of practical tests to ensure mobile coverage information reflects the actual experience of today’s mobile users. This has resulted in a new approach for defining mobile coverage.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of everyday consumer devices and other physical objects that are connected to the Internet to provide new services. As part of the Connected Nations Report, we intend to track and monitor the growth and development of IoT in the UK. IoT is set to enable large numbers of previously unconnected devices to communicate and share data with one another. We consider IoT an important developing area of communications networks. Our priorities in this area include ensuring the availability of infrastructure is not a constraint for the development of IoT.
Over the next decade IoT connections and services are expected to grow rapidly and many of these new services, such as improved healthcare, energy and transport have the potential to deliver significant benefits to consumers.
We have an ongoing program of work conducting research and monitoring industry and technology developments. Over the past few years we have explored and identified priority areas to help and support the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT).
With the continued growth in consumption of both fixed and mobile data services, the overall role of internet access services in meeting consumer communications needs continues to grow in importance. In this section we touch on some of the areas relevant to this continued evolution of internet services and how regulators and policy makers need to remain vigilant in ensuring that these services continue to operate in an equitable and open way.
It is a key policy objective that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) continue to provide services that allow access to all sources of online content and that any traffic prioritisation of particular services is not implemented in a way that compromises the “open” internet.
We have sought to confirm that work already undertaken in order to demonstrate compliance to other aspects of the EU Telecoms Single Market (TSM) Regulations is clear and comprehensible.
The security and resilience of fixed, mobile and broadcast television networks and services is increasingly more important. This section summarises the major security and resilience issues that were reported to us over the past year along with some key themes from the work we have done over the past year.
Important points to note are:
- Most 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;
- We are reporting more incidents on mobile networks as a result of our ongoing effort to improve the reporting of mobile incidents;
- Cyber attacks on telecommunications networks have the potential to have very serious consequences. Working under existing and new legislation in this area, we are increasing our focus on this security threat.
- Two investigations into the resilience of voice access to the emergency services have concluded in the last 12 months, both with fines for the providers involved. This has highlighted the importance of ensuring appropriate resilience measures are in place;
- The resilience of mobile networks, in particular to major power disruption, remains a key concern; and
- Further to the overview of issues associated with the so-called “PSTN switch off” we noted in last year’s Connected Nations report, we have established a programme of work with providers and other stakeholders that is aimed at identifying and mitigating any consequent risks to consumers.
Television distribution and consumption continues to evolve. Broadcast television services are increasingly being complemented by broadband TV services. Many of these can now be accessed on the same consumer equipment, providing easy access to wider range of broadcast and on-demand TV content. There has also been a continued move towards higher resolution formats, with an increased range of both HD (High Definition) and UHD (Ultra High Definition) content becoming available on TV delivery platforms.
In this section we set out three key themes:
- The live consumption of broadcast TV channels remains popular with viewers: Estimates showthatviewing live TV (i.e. broadcast TV content watched at the time of transmission) still represents nearly 80% of viewing.
- There continues to be a significant increase in both the number and sophistication of hybrid broadcast/broadband TV platforms: Hybrid TV platforms are continuing to improve in functionality and uptake, merging broadcast and online content into one consumer experience.
- More Ultra-High Definition (UHD/4K) content is becoming available: Just over 40% of all TVs sold recently support UHD. UHD Blu-ray discs are available, and satellite and online distribution of UHD content continues to grow.
- However, whilst 63% of consumers can receive HD services, only 18% choose to watch in HD.