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
Ofcom 2012 Infrastructure Report