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Ofcom Want UK 2Mbps Target Raised as Superfast Broadband Reaches 65%

Posted Friday, November 16th, 2012 (11:51 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 1,054)
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The communications regulator has published its annual 2012 Infrastructure Report, which claims that “close to” 100% of premises in the United Kingdom can now receive a broadband service (71% take-up) and just 10% can only get sub-2Mbps speeds (down from 14% in 2011). Superfast broadband (25Mbps+) is also available to 65% of homes and businesses (7% take-up).

The UK’s average broadband speeds have also risen as a result of this accelerating availability and adoption of superfast broadband services, with the average speed now standing at 12.7Mbps (Megabits per second); an increase of 69% from the 7.5Mbps recorded in 2011.

But take note that Ofcom are using modem “sync” speeds as their performance gauge, which references the maximum rate at which data is transferred from the ISP to the end user; this is an optimistic figure and usually higher than real-world performance. The regulators biannual speeds report found that real performance was closer to 9Mbps.

The government has already invested around £1bn of public money (must be matched by councils and the private sector) to help extend the reach of superfast broadband services to 90% of UK people by 2015 (the last 10% will have to put up with minimum speeds of at least 2Mbps), while the imminent 4G auction intends to make related mobile broadband services available to “at least” 98% of people by around 2017. But Ofcom thinks that the 2Mbps Universal Service Commitment (USC) should be raised.

Ofcoms Statement on the 2Mbps USC Target

Many consumers now have the option to switch to superfast services to improve their speeds, and others could improve their speeds by addressing in-home wiring issues. Together, these actions could go a long way to delivering the Government’s ambition. For those still unable to receive 2Mbit/s via a fixed network, other technologies are becoming available, such as satellite broadband and 4G mobile broadband.

We found, however, that broadband speeds seem to be a significant constraint on how much data consumers can use on the internet. Specifically, we found that the amount of data downloaded and uploaded by consumers increases steadily as broadband speeds rise, up to around 8Mbit/s, at which point it remains essentially constant until speeds are reached where ‘superfast’ services are being used. It is likely that this is caused by consumers with broadband speeds of a few MBit/s being deterred from using data hungry services such as high definition internet TV or large file downloads.

It is widely recognised that targets such as the USC need to evolve over time if they are to remain effective. The data we have published here suggests that it may be appropriate to consider increasing the USC target in due course. The practicality and timing of such a change must clearly take account of affordability, though we note that there are a number of developments in wireless and fixed line technologies which could help reduce the costs of delivering an increased commitment.

On top of that the regulator has suggested that the UK definition of superfast broadband should perhaps be raised from “greater than 24Mbps” to 30Mbps, which would bring us more into line with Europe’s Digital Agenda strategy. The move already seems to be happening for new projects, although whether or not the goal posts are raised for older ones remains a matter for the government to decide.

Elsewhere residential fixed line broadband customers are using an average of 23GB (GigaBytes) of data per month, which is up by 35% from 17GB in 2011. By comparison the average mobile customer used 245 MegaBytes of data in the year month, twice as much as the year before but still well below what fixed line users consume.

As for Mobile Broadband services. The proportion of UK premises which cannot receive a 3G mobile signal (“not spots“) has fallen by a quarter, from 1.2% last year to 0.9%. The proportion of premises receiving a 3G signal from all mobile operators has increased to 77.3% (up from 73.1% a year earlier).

Ofcom has also used this report to keep a close eye on the issue of Net Neutrality and Traffic Management, although they found that “there are currently no substantive concerns in relation to the traffic management practices used by fixed ISPs“. The regulator noted some “concern” with how some mobile operators block Skype (VoIP) but not enough to take any action against.

The regulator has also updated its interactive UK maps of mobile and fixed line broadband availability, adoption and performance.

Ofcom’s Interactive UK Broadband and Mobile Maps
http://maps.ofcom.org.uk/

Ofcom 2012 Infrastructure Report
http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/other/telecoms-research/broadband-speeds/infrastructure-report-2012/

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10 Responses
  1. Sledgehammer

    ” Superfast broadband (25Mbps+) is also available to 65% of homes and businesses ”

    This I would dispute, I think the figure should be nearer 33%, as not every cabinet has been upgraded to FTTC. This would make the 7% uptake figure look even even better or nearer 14%?

    • Don’t forget Virgin Media covers about half the UK already and BT’s FTTC roll-out doesn’t entirely mirror every area they go to, yet. Plus other operators, such as Small World in the north, KC in Hull and CityFibre in the south have a growing coverage.

    • New_Londoner

      @Sledgehammer
      IIRC the most recent stats from BT last month stated 12 million premises had access to FTTC/P, which would be somewhere above 40%. As Mark says, you’ve got cable in a little under 50% of premises too, and they don’t overlap 100%, so 65% total is not unreasonable as a combined figure. Particularly with a few % here and there from others to add to BT and Virgin.

      At this rate they may overtake 3G reach next year, which is pretty impressive given its more time consuming to build than a mobile network.

    • Bob

      The 33% is low a more realistic figure is in the region of 45% it is certainly not as high as 65% as large areas of cities are still without cable or FTTC and there are the EO lines as few exchanges are above the 70% mark with cabinets enablled.

  2. Kyle

    Superfast evolution is going to have to be a long term evolutionary plan. It’s not suffice to reach a minimum of 2mbps and say ‘job done’.

    It’s a valid point that the bar must be set higher and higher at each milestone, which until now, is not something I’ve seen discussed.

  3. Sledgehammer

    VM may cover about half of the country and looking at VM’s % of subscribers it’s only what VM can expect with a lot of their cabinets not having equipment in them and no cable into them as well. If you take VM’s figures out of the equation then things look even worse.

    Figures can be used to put forth all sorts of points of view. So why don’t BT produce their own figures of people on FTTH/B and FTTC also total number of cabinets converted/ cabinets still to convert so every one can see at a glance where we are and not be so secretive about it.

    It only leads me to think that while the uptake has been low it’s even lower than BT hoped for.

    • DTMark

      It would be very interesting to compare the take-up figures for BT’s semi-fibre service in cabled areas, with the areas which don’t have access to cable.

  4. The Government/ local authorities and Devolved admins are putting more than enough in to declare 95% NGA – in terms access to the capability, while edge of network could be upped to 10Mbps if antennas were used to boost the 4G coverage obligation. The barrier to the former(95%) is lack of transparency from BT on its costs. The latter only needs an MNO to agree terms with a Fixed Wireless operator and antenna installers.

    Subsidising BET should fall outside state aid, and any request for more than £12k per fibre path and cabinet should be tested against a MNO/FWA 4G solution.

    The slow removal of staellite dishes by councils will be one factor to drive uptake.

  5. DTMark

    It would seem to matter little what the “target” is, given that the BDUK projects have been about giving money to BT to enable cabinets, not to supply superfast broadband. Clearly there’s some significant overlap between those, but if the strategy consists of simply “doing cabinets” then goals are largely irrelevant, people will just get what they’re given (e.g. what a near century old phone wire can manage, so, anywhere between nil and 76Meg as it stands).

    2Meg is not broadband. I don’t see how anyone can take that seriously. Even streaming YouTube videos to your Smart TV needs about 5Meg in many cases where only the HD version is available, and that’s *now*, roll forward 3 years… 5 years…

    And the comments about slow speeds limiting usage are indeed correct in so far as with ADSL @ circa 1.5Meg we would struggle to stream anything much to the TV, whereas 3G @ 6Meg+ manages it fine. Average usage now in region of 25GB/mo, close to the quoted average, so that costs us about £100/mo.

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