Communications Infrastructure Report 2011 - Fixed broadband data

Published 06|07|11

Introduction

Background

1.1 The Digital Economy Act 2010 gave Ofcom a new duty to report to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport every three years on the state of the UK's communications infrastructure. The first report is due later this year.

1.2 The first report will include information on the networks and services used by the majority of UK consumers. These include voice and data services carried over fixed and mobile networks as well as digital TV and radio broadcasts.

1.3 Government has placed particular importance on the availability and take up of broadband services. In a speech on 12 May 2011 Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, outlined government's ambitions to provide all homes and businesses in the UK with access to at least 2Mbit/s broadband and that superfast broadband should be available to 90 per cent of people in each local authority area.

1.4 The government has allocated 530m to assist in providing the UK with the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015 and is encouraging local authorities to develop their own broadband plans setting out how superfast broadband access will be rolled-out in their area. Local authorities will be able to apply for a share of the 530m.

1.5 Due to the importance placed on this matter, the Secretary of State has requested that Ofcom bring forward the publication of the data relating to fixed broadband networks and services that we were compiling for the Infrastructure Report. This data will be valuable to local authorities in developing their broadband plans and will thereby help accelerate the rate at which the benefits of improved broadband infrastructure can be delivered to UK citizens and consumers.

1.6 This report includes the data that the Secretary of State has requested and will form part of the main Infrastructure Report. Further information on next steps is provided in section 3.

Scope of report

1.7 This report provides data on various aspects of broadband services delivered over fixed telecoms networks.

1.8 The large majority of broadband services in the UK are provided using either telephone lines maintained by Openreach (part of the BT Group) or via Virgin Media's cable network. However, this report also includes data from Kingston Communications which is the sole operator of the telephony network in Hull, Wight Cable which operates cable services on the Isle of Wight and Digital Region which has built a superfast broadband network in South Yorkshire. There are a number of other companies already providing superfast broadband in different parts of the UK, but these have not been included in the analysis as their current scale is unlikely to have a significant impact on the overall results.

1.9 In addition to collecting data from the infrastructure providers, we have also analysed data from the leading retail Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to ascertain average broadband speeds and assess the percentage of consumers currently not receiving broadband at speeds of 2Mbit/s or more.

1.10 This report does not consider broadband delivered using wireless technologies, nor does it consider high speed data connections provided primarily to business customers using traditional 'leased lines'.

1.11 The report includes four metrics which are important indicators of the state of broadband throughout the UK:

Broadband take-up The number of existing broadband connections as a proportion of residential and non-residential addresses.
Average modem sync speed The average maximum speeds of the existing broadband connections
Superfast availability The percentage of addresses which are within the coverage area of superfast broadband networks
Receiving less than 2Mbit/s The percentage of existing broadband connections currently not achieving 2Mbit/s downstream speeds.

1.12 Data on superfast broadband take-up has not been included in the above metrics. Latest published figures from Virgin Media and BT suggest there are fewer than 500k subscribers to superfast broadband across the UK, equating to fewer than 3% of broadband homes. Due to the current low take-up and commercial sensitivity of the number and location of these subscribers we have chosen not to include superfast broadband take-up in this report. As take-up of superfast broadband increases we will seek to include this data in future reports.

1.13 Data is provided for each tier 1 local authority. This is the level at which the government expects most local broadband plans to be developed. Terminology varies among the different countries making up the UK, but broadly speaking the areas relate to English Metropolitan and Non-Metropolitan Counties, Unitary Authorities, Metropolitan Districts and Council Areas. In total we are reporting on 200 different administrative authority areas.

1.14 It should be noted that the data will primarily be of interest to local authorities in developing their local broadband plans. Because broadband availability and speeds can vary significantly over relatively small geographic areas the granularity of the data presented in this report will be of limited value to consumers in making purchasing decisions. Ofcom has previously published consumer guides on choosing a broadband service and most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide information on their websites on availability of products in different geographic areas along with estimates of broadband speeds available at individual addresses.

Methodology

1.15 The methodology by which the data has been compiled has been developed with two key objectives:

i) To provide a robust dataset that allows broadband to be compared in different parts of the UK; and
ii) To use an easily repeatable methodology which will allow the analysis to be undertaken on a regular basis to allow changes in broadband to be tracked over the coming years.

1.16 This report assumes the reader is reasonably familiar with the different technologies used to deliver broadband over fixed lines. Further background information on broadband technologies and the factors that affect their performance can be found in Section 10 of our most recent UK fixed broadband speeds research published in March 2011.

1.17 Details of the methodology are provided in Annex 2. However, there are a number of important points to note.

  • Our broadband take-up figure represents the number of non-superfast fixed broadband connections as a percentage of residential and non-residential addresses in the area. It does not include superfast broadband connections or broadband delivered over mobile, wireless or satellite. For these reasons, this metric is not directly comparable with broadband take up figures we have published in previous reports and which are based on the results of consumer surveys.
  • The 'modem sync speed' is the maximum rate at which data is transferred from the ISP to the end users across their broadband connection. We have calculated the average modem sync speed in each area for services delivered over telephone lines and cable connections. However, the measure will not always correspond exactly to the speeds experienced by consumers. The actual average speeds experienced by consumers when using the internet will typically be slightly lower due to factors such as traffic congestion; data overheads associated with sending data across the internet and the performance of the servers to which the consumers is connecting. For these reasons the average modem sync speeds presented in this report are not directly comparable with the average speeds reported in Ofcom's previous research into broadband speeds. However, this metric does provide a reliable indicator of the capability of the broadband infrastructure, it can easily be tracked over time and data is available to undertake analysis on a detailed geographic basis.
  • The superfast availability metric includes all of the areas where Virgin Media is able to provide broadband services via its cable network and those areas outside Virgin's network where the Digital Region and Openreach have deployed Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) technology at a telephone exchange. For the Openreach FTTC deployments, the metric reflects the percentage of premises that are within the catchment area of a FTTC enabled telephone exchange. However, in practice some premises may not be able to receive superfast services. This is because some street cabinets within the exchange area may not be upgraded at the same time as the exchange. Even where a cabinet has been upgraded, some lines may be too far from the fibre enabled cabinet to achieve high speeds. Typically, 80% to 90% of premises within an exchange area will be enabled in the initial deployment phase; hence the metric we have used may over estimate superfast broadband availability in non cabled areas. However, further coverage may be achieved in these areas at a later date as new technologies are developed and the commercial case for investment improves.
  • The percentage of homes receiving less than 2Mbit/s download speeds is calculated from a large sample of existing customers using broadband delivered over telephone lines. The number of connections with modem sync speeds of 2.2 Mbit/s or less is divided by the total number of non superfast broadband connections. It is important to note that many customers achieving speeds of less than 2Mbit/s could take action to achieve higher speeds (see below).