Infrastructure Report 2014

Published 08|12|14

In the space of just a few years, the availability of fixed broadband technology has transformed the way we use the internet.

From playing a niche role in the early 2000s, broadband is now regarded as one of life’s essentials by the vast majority of consumers and small businesses.

At home, there are more ways than ever to access it; from laptops and desktops to smartphones and tablets over in-home Wi-Fi.

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Businesses rely on telephone and internet services to sell goods and services, connect to customers, deal with suppliers and manage their workforce.

Beyond this, many digital businesses rely on broadband services for the actual delivery of their products and services. Reliable and high quality broadband and mobile connections are becoming ever more important to commerce and to the wider economy.

Good connectivity is important for businesses of all sizes.

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Mobile services now sit at the heart of how most people stay in touch.

They keep consumers connected on the move and, increasingly, enable them to access both voice and the internet.

In the UK, 95% of households have mobile phones and 16% make phone calls with mobile phones only, and have no landline at all.

At the time of our first Infrastructure Report in 2011, only 32% of adults were using their mobile to access the internet. Three years later, 57% of adults do.

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At first glance, fixed and mobile telecommunications have seen more significant developments in recent years than the UK’s broadcast infrastructure.

Most TV and radio continues to be consumed through traditional linear broadcasting platforms.

The number of channels, and the main platforms used to deliver them, (i.e. terrestrial, satellite and cable), are largely the same.

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As we increase our dependence on the nation’s communications infrastructure, the security and resilience of fixed, mobile and broadcast television networks and services become ever more important.

A major failure would have the potential to affect large numbers of people and businesses; it could also have repercussions for the wider UK economy.

At the same time, the interconnected and global nature of communications services brings with it challenging vulnerabilities which we must identify and address.

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Convergence is the growing phenomenon whereby a range of content types (audio, video, text, pictures) and services are distributed over different digital networks (fixed broadband, mobile, satellite, cable, digital terrestrial) to a variety of consumer devices (PCs, tablets, TVs and mobiles).

In a convergent world, a mobile handset can receive voice calls, data, pictures, audio, video and text, all delivered over a mobile network.

Similarly, television and video content is accessed using satellite, cable and digital terrestrial TV, or indeed via a fixed broadband connection or mobile network.

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Communications services are critical to the UK’s economic success and social cohesion. They are used by the average UK adult for over half of their waking hours. The coverage, capacity and reliability of the digital infrastructure over which these services are provided are of fundamental importance to both consumers and businesses.

The majority of the investment to build and maintain communications networks is delivered by commercial providers, competing to deliver services to consumers and businesses.

Ofcom is responsible for the regulatory framework that ensures effective competition. It is our role to help create the conditions that will foster efficient investment and innovation, leading to a wide range of high quality communications services throughout the UK.

However, the economics of networks means there are parts of the UK that will not be fully served by the market. There are also some services which may not be provided to all by the market. In these circumstances, Ofcom or the Government may intervene to further consumer and citizen interests.

Who takes action, and how, depends on the levers available. For example, Ofcom has moved to improve mobile coverage by attaching coverage obligations to mobile licences. The Government has intervened to improve the coverage of mobile networks and superfast broadband through public funding to subsidise wider roll-out.

The challenge when designing any intervention is to ensure that it is precisely targeted, so that it is an efficient means of achieving the policy goal, and at the same time minimises the risk of knock-on effects that could reduce competition or private sector investment. Such targeting requires an accurate and up to date understanding of the state of the UK’s infrastructure.

This report is designed to provide this information. It follows the inaugural report in 2011 and a series of smaller annual updates. It considers how networks are adapting to increases in demand and highlights challenges for the future.

We have also created an online map and visualisation tool for much of the report’s data. This allows users to assess the coverage and performance of the infrastructure in their area and compare it to others. The tool is available at http://infrastructure.ofcom.org.uk/.