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89% of UK Covered by 30Mbps Broadband, But Only 1.7% See “Full Fibre”

Posted Friday, December 16th, 2016 (10:52 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 1,087)
united kingdom map

Ofcom has today published their annual Connected Nations 2016 report, which confirms that 89% of UK premises are now within reach of a fixed line superfast broadband service (up from 83% in 2015), with take-up hitting 31% (up from 27%). But only 1.7% (498K premises) can get “full fibre” (FTTP/H).

Just to troll us before Christmas, the regulator has also released their International Communications Market Report 2016 (ICMR), which compares broadband and other communication services in the United Kingdom against 17 other countries, but we’ll come back to that one later. Oh and there’s the outcome of their USO consultation too, but let’s deal with everything one at a time.

The eagle-eyed among you will no doubt notice that Ofcom’s statistics for superfast broadband coverage are a bit behind the official Government figure of 91%, but that’s largely because their report uses the higher speed definition of 30Mbps+ (the BDUK / Gov prefer 24Mbps+) and is also based off older data.

Much of the above fixed line “superfast” coverage is being delivered via KCOM’s network in Hull and Openreach’s (BT) national platform, usually via their FTTC + FTTPfibre broadband” footprint. On top of that Virgin Media’s cable and fibre (DOCSIS) network reaches around half of UK premises, albeit mostly in urban areas. All operators are currently expanding their coverage, including smaller altnets (e.g. Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, B4RN etc.). Interestingly Ofcom estimates that around 3% (780,000 premises) of those taking an FTTC service cannot receive superfast speeds.

Otherwise the study also highlights how “ultrafast” (300Mbps+) broadband speeds are available to just 2% of premises, although we expect that to reach about 50%+ once Virgin Media officially begins offering their 300Mbps or 350Mbps package to homes (apparently their business focused HomeWorks+ upgrade doesn’t count).

It’s also noted that of the 498,000 premises passed (1.7%) for “full fibre” FTTP/H coverage, some 450,000 of the total are in England. Another interesting fact is that in 2015 around 8% of UK premises (2.4 million) were unable to receive broadband speeds faster than 10Mbps, but this has now fallen to 5% (1.4 million premises) and those may fall within the Government’s planned broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO).

ofcom_cmr_2016_broadband_coverage

The growth in take up of superfast broadband has led to an increase in average speeds across the UK. The average download speed of all active connections in the UK is now 37Mbps, an increase of 28% from 29Mbps in 2015. Speeds are lower in rural areas, where there is a lower availability of superfast services. The average download speed in the UK’s rural areas is just 21Mbps, which represents an increase on the speed last year, which was 13Mbps.

Download speeds have also risen for those consumers that subscribe to superfast services. The average download speed of superfast services in the UK is now 74Mbps, up from 65Mbps in 2015. Sadly Ofcom “do not yet have sufficient data to estimate the average speeds of ultrafast or full fibre services, but will explore ways to calculate this in future reports“.

We should point out that Ofcom’s analysis of broadband speeds is based on the information provided by ISPs regarding the “sync speed” of each active line (i.e. not actual speed tests), which is arguably more of an optimistic estimate than the real-world testing that they do in their other annual broadband speeds report (those use a custom router installed in several thousand homes).

In addition, the average monthly data volumes per household on fixed broadband connections have increased by 36% over the past year, from 97 GigaBytes (GB) to 132GB. We should add that the total data usage per household for “superfast” connections is even higher at 169GB (up from 112GB).

Mobile

The report also examines the coverage of mobile networks, such as via the usual 2G, 3G and 4G based platforms that almost everybody should now be quite familiar with.

Overall 82% of UK outdoor premises can now receive a 4G signal and this drops to 72% for indoor coverage and just 48% for outdoor geographic coverage. Mind you 4G is still being rolled out and there’s a lot of work left to do.

ofcom_cmr_2016_mobile_network_coverage

Most of the early 4G deployments have been focused on urban areas. As a result, geographic 4G coverage in the UK’s rural areas is only 37% of landmass, compared to 89% in towns and cities. Coverage inside premises, where many consumers use their phones, remains relatively low, even in urban areas; 72% of UK premises (21 million) receive a 4G signal from all operators indoors.

Steve Unger, Ofcom Group Director, said:

“Mobile and broadband coverage continued to grow this year, but too many people and businesses are still struggling for a good service. We think that is unacceptable.

So we’re challenging mobile operators to go beyond built-up areas, and provide coverage across the UK’s countryside and transport networks. Today we’ve also provided technical advice to support the Government’s plans for universal, decent broadband.”

With growing coverage and greater take-up, 4G is also driving greater volumes of data downloads and uploads. The average volume of data consumed per subscriber is now 1.3GB per month, up from 0.9GB in 2015.

International Comparison

Ofcom has separately published a useful international comparison of the UK against 17 other counties. For example, household penetration of fixed broadband reached 80% in the UK, which puts us fifth among the comparator countries.

Likewise the only countries to beat us for “superfast broadband” coverage were Japan (98% of households), the Netherlands (98%), Singapore (99%), South Korea (100%) and the USA drew level with the UK.

ofcom_international_broadband_comparison_2016

The story for 4G Mobile coverage is a bit more mixed, which isn’t a surprise because the UK was late to the party, after legal threats and squabbles between mobile operators pushed the auction of related spectrum (800MHz and 2.6GHz) back by several years. As a result of all that the mainstream roll-out didn’t really begin until late 2013.

Sadly Ofcom has bludgeoned us half to death with the release of several huge reports today and that means that we can’t give maximum attention to each one, but if you have a couple of days spare then feel free to read through these two (there’s lots of juicy data inside). We’ve also posted the general summary of fixed broadband and superfast broadband stats below.

Ofcom’s 2016 Connected Nations Report
https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0035/95876/CN-Report-2016.pdf

Ofcom’s 2016 Communications Market Report: International
https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0026/95642/ICMR-Full.pdf

ofcom_fixed_broadband_stats_2016
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12 Responses
  1. MikeW

    3% of NGA premises not getting superfast speeds? That’s broadly in line with TBB’s “local” database.

    TBB reckons that, out of the 95.2% which have NGA availability, 3.1% can’t get 24Mbps, and 0.6% get between 24 and 30Mbps.

    One bit I’m not sure I understand… In the final figure, the last section related to those premises with speeds of 10Mbps or less – 5% of the country. It shows takeup of 24%; Does that really mean that only a quarter of that final 5% have a broadband connection? If so, I wonder how much that is down to choice.

    • John

      There is a guy on TBB who got 0.75mbps until BT/ISP decided it was no longer possible to provide and disconnected him!

  2. Steve Jones

    The Ultrafast section is interesting. It states that only 2% can get ultrafast (soon to change of course). It then also states the astonishingly low take-up rate of 0.09%. The implication is that fewer than one in a thousand of, what must presumably be FTTP connected, premises choose to take a download speed greater than 300mbps.

    I assume this is due to the price premium currently on faster profiles, but it does not speak of an enormous appetite for higher speeds if there’s a significant cost increase involved.

    I did wonder id the 0.09% was take-up over the entire nation, but that’s inconsistent with the other sections.

    All that said (as somebody else has pointed out), the 24% take-up level for sub-10mbps capable lines looks very odd indeed. I would go so far as to say almost certainly wrong.

    • Henry

      The trick with percentages is to know (or guess) what is being divided by what. Figures 4 and 5 showing increases in coverage seems to need particular thought

      I would read the fixed broadband “take-up” numbers in as being numbers of premises getting that download sync speed divided by the total number of premises (29 million-ish). So 54% at 10Mbit/s or higher, 31% at 30Mbit/s or higher (all included in the 54%), 0.09% at 300Mbit/s or higher (included in both the previous numbers), and 24% at below 10Mbit/s. Add 54% and 24% to get 78% and you have the overall take-up of fixed broadband

      I may be wrong (the 2015 numbers do not quite add up in the same way, though there may have been rounding issues)

      Presumably the 24% below 10Mbit/s include those who could choose to have faster services using Virgin Media or Openreach VDSL or other networks, but who have so far stayed with ADSL Max or long-line ADSL2+ broadband for various reasons of their own

      Meanwhile Ofcom have a postcode/address checker at https://checker.ofcom.org.uk/broadband-coverage which says my highest available speed is 8 down and 0.8 up, while in reality I can only get 4 down and 0.4 up on a good day but 1 down and 0.01 up on a bad day. My immediate neighbours get a slower service than me (possibly home-wiring issues) except for the one with a satellite dish, who has different problems

    • gerarda

      Henry

      If your understanding is correct, and I suspect from a table in the 2015 report that it is, its an astonishingly misleading way of putting it. The figure Ofcom are quoting as take-up is simply the proportion of total users of each type of service

  3. Steve Jones

    Some more surprising stats. On the International comparisons, the UK’s fixed line broadband revenue is quoted at £5bn a year. A decent, but hardly and enormous amount. However, France, a country of comparable population is quoted as having £2bn annual revenue in the same category and Germany, a more notably populous country is just £3bn. The UK also has fixed line voice revenues of £9bn (I thought that was in free-fall, yet nearly double fixed-line BB) yet France has £4bn in the same category.

    Also, is it really true that the UK telecoms sector revenue, at £29bn is 81% higher than that of France, a very similar country in terms of GDP and population?

    The pattern of voice and mobile usage in France doesn’t seem to be vastly different, so what gives? The stats or are we in the UK paying so much more?

    NB. on the same measures, Australia looks expensive as does the USA, albeit not quite so bad.

  4. 3G Infinity

    End of year, get the reports out and claim the credit.

  5. gerarda

    Although there appears to be greater accuracy and less propaganda from Ofcom with Sharon White in charge, they still slip up in a few areas,and as others have commented this leads to some strange results

    The report says that a more detailed analysis of the fixed line data has been carried out, but there appears to no longer be the postcode data file to support it. In previous years they have basically ignored not spots and postcodes with no service from the big ISPs or extrapolated those as if they were postcodes they did have data for leading to some very strange assertions.

    This year the figure of 24% take up in sub 10Mbps lines suggests that instead of ignoring this, they have just assumed the missing data equals no connection as I cannot imagine that FWA and Satellite would have double the coverage of ADSL

    However to be consistent with another paragraph in the report they should have ignored anything below 10Mbps as its apparently not broadband

    “2.5 Three levels of fixed broadband service are offered in the UK, typically defined in terms of the download speed they offer. Standard broadband services have download speeds of between 10 and 30Mbit/s, whilst superfast broadband services have download speeds greater than 30Mbit/s. … We are now starting to see the emergence of new ultrafast broadband services, which make greater use of fibre connections, and which we currently define as delivering download speeds of at least 300Mbit/s”

    The continued use of mean average rather than median for downloads speeds is disappointing as it overstates the experience of the typical user.

  6. Bob

    I would regard the 30mbps as suspect. 89% of home may have a theoretical 30mbps but the actual speeds delivered in many cases will be lower

  7. Bob

    The real concern is the speed at which the UK is falling behind Europe with FTTP. There is almost zero progress with this and the approach is very piecemeal when what is needed is a proper UK wide roll out which will reduce cost substantially and probably closing down the legacy voice network

    • 125uS

      Why the obsession with technology? The UK is near the top of the table in Europe for availability of broadband, it’s cheaper than the European average and speeds are a little above average.

      If the UK had gone for a full FTTP roll-out we’d be years behind. A small number of people would have very, very fast broadband, but the vast majority would still be on ADSL. If you want to improve the experience of the greatest number of people in the shortest time possible, extending the capability of HFC and copper networks is the only game in town.

      A useful rule of thumb is that better broadband over an existing access connection costs £200 per premises, fibre costs £2000 – averaged over the country and ignoring the last 10%. (The last 10 costs the same as the first 90, so doing everyone costs double what doing nearly everyone costs). Given that money isn’t unlimited, if Virgin and BT and the government had gone for FTTP only a tenth of the people with faster broadband today would have it under your plan. The UK really would be the worst in Europe then.

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