Ofcom Wants Total Superfast Broadband Coverage As Average Speeds Reach 23Mbps

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Ofcom says cost and complexity should be no barrier in rolling out superfast broadband to homes and businesses, many of whom need at least 10Mbps

Ofcom says not a single home or business should be excluded from the rollout of superfast broadband, no matter how complex or expensive it may be.

The regulator says the UK is making “good progress” with the rollout of mobile and fixed broadband technologies but says more could be done to ensure the ‘final five percent’ are connected – both in rural and urban notspots.

According to the 2014 Ofcom Infrastructure Report (OIR), the average UK broadband speed has increased from 18Mbps to 23Mbps over the past year, but just 22 percent of households have superfast broadband, while 73 percent have broadband of any description.

BT’s Openreach fibre network now reaches 21 million premises, 1.5 million of which have been connected as a direct result of government-funded projects like Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).

SMB importance

splayfoil road fibre cabinetOfcom says most households need 10Mbps to meet their demands and says it may recommend increasing the minimum speed required under universal service agreements from 2Mbps to help facilitate this.

Rural speeds tend to be lower than those in urban areas, but even in the centre of major cities like London, there are areas unserved by superfast broadband. These urban notspots are generally caused by the absence of a cabinet to upgrade because of the number of direct connections.

While this is frustrating for consumers, it’s potentially damaging for small businesses, which generally have less access to superfast broadband compared to the population. Two thirds use ADSL connections as fibre is only available to 56 percent of SMBs – a figure which drops to 40 percent in Scotland and 37 percent in Wales.

It’s possible this figure is low because some SMBs are located in business parks served by leased lines but says measures like the Super Connected Cities voucher scheme and the availability of FTTP from Hyperoptic and CityFibre among others should help improve the situation.

Other measures being considered are satellite and wireless connections, similar to the Relish service in central London, as well as new technologies like G.Fast, which provides faster speeds on a copper connection.

Mobile growth

Ofcom is also working to improve mobile coverage, noting the future auction of sub-1GHz spectrum and the government’s £150 million Mobile Infrastructure Project to build more masts in underserved areas.

fibreleadThe report states the regulator has been providing “technical support” to the government, which has proposed a controversial ‘national roaming’ network, but could instead increase each operator’s coverage requirements. However Ofcom says the UK is making ‘good progress’ with 4G as 72 percent of the UK can receive a service from at least one operator.

Mobile data consumption has risen by 46 percent over the past year and Ofcom expects a four-fold increase by 2018. It says operators are already looking towards technologies like LTE-A and 5G in a bid to meet these demands and says the Internet of Things (IoT) is starting to become a reality.

The importance of mobile and fixed broadband services can perhaps be best demonstrated by the decline in use of SMS messages and television. The number of households with a TV set fell for the first time ever from 26.33 million to 26.02 million.

“Digital infrastructure is crucial to the UK’s future. As a country we are continuing to make real progress, particularly in the roll out and take-up of superfast broadband and 4G mobile services,” said Ed Richards, Ofcom CEO. “But there is more to be done. We need to continue asking whether collectively we are doing enough to build the infrastructure of the future, and to maintain the competition that benefits consumers and businesses.”

“The way consumers interact with their TV, phone and broadband is changing as fast as technology is evolving. Our challenge is to keep supporting competition and innovation, while also helping to improve coverage across the country – particularly in hard-to-reach areas where mobile and home internet services need to improve.”

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