Ofcom Finds Rural Areas ‘Poorly Served’ By Broadband, Mobile

Broadband and mobile services have improved over the past year, but large areas – and particularly rural areas – are still “poorly served”, Ofcom has found.

The regulator also found poor takeup of superfast broadband services, those offering speeds of at least 30Mbps, in spite of wide availability.

The annual Connected Nations study found that only 41 percent of rural areas had access to mobile data links of 2Mbps or faster, compared with 83 percent in urban areas.

Some 91 percent of the UK’s landmass had good call coverage from at least one operator, with 78 percent having coverage from all four, while 66 percent had 4G data coverage, up from 49 percent last year.

Mobile data divide

Almost all premises had a good indoor 4G data signal from at least one of the four operators, with 77 percent covered by all four, up from 65 percent last year.

But some remote areas still have no access to either mobile or fixed data connections.

Overall, Ofcom found marked improvement in connectivity, with the number of homes and businesses premises that cannot receive a “decent” connection of 10Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speeds halving over the past 12 months.

But that still left some 677,000 homes and premises without decent broadband, with most being in rural areas.

Ofcom is hoping the incoming Universal Service Obligation (USO) will address the issue.

“Too many rural areas are left with patchy or unreliable mobile reception,” Ofcom said. “While 83 percent of urban homes and offices have complete 4G coverage, the figure for rural premises is less than half that (41 percent). In some remote parts of the country, there is no coverage at all.”

“Mobile coverage has improved across the UK this year – but too many people and businesses are still struggling for a signal,” stated Ofcom spectrum group director Philip Marnick.

Ofcom said it is planning new rules that would make spectrum for mobile services available more quickly and extend good mobile coverage to where it’s needed.

As part of its plans the regulator this week announced plans to auction two new tranches of mobile spectrum for both rural and urban 5G networks.

Slow adoption of superfast speeds

Superfast broadband can be accessed by 94 percent of premises, up from 91 percent last year, while ultrafast broadband clocked at at least 100Mbps is available to 50 percent, up from 36 percent last year, mostly due to ongoing Virgin Media network improvements.

Fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband are available to about 1.8 milion premises, up by 1 million since last year, following rollouts by Openreach, CityFibre’s joint venture with Vodafone and Hyperoptic.

But Ofcom noted that only 45 percent of premises had actually signed up to superfast broadband, or less than half the premises to which such services are available.

The regulator has launched an awareness campaign to boost consumer and business knowledge of superfast availability.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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