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Infrastructure Report - 2012 Update

Published 16|11|12

Summary

1.1 In November 2011 Ofcom published the first Communications Infrastructure Report (-1-). This report was published pursuant to section 134A of the Communications Act 2003, which gives Ofcom a duty to report every three years to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the state of the UK's communications infrastructure.

1.2 As we indicated last year, the UK's communications infrastructure is changing quickly as a result of rapid developments in consumers' use of communications services and the resulting investment by operators. This update highlights some of the most notable changes over the past year including the:

  • Growing availability and take-up of superfast broadband;
  • Rising use of mobile internet services; and
  • Completion of digital TV switchover.

Current generation fixed broadband

1.3 Current generation broadband is available in close to 100% of premises in the UK. Overall take-up of fixed broadband services is now around 71% of UK premises.

1.4 The Government is committed to ensuring that, by 2015, almost all premises in the UK will be able to access a basic broadband service of at least 2Mbit/s, through the Universal Service Commitment (USC). We have seen significant progress to this target over the last year, and expect this to continue:

  • We found that 10% of all UK connections had fixed broadband speeds of less than 2Mbit/s this year, a significant improvement on the 14% recorded last year.
  • Many consumers now have the option to switch to superfast services to improve their speeds, and others could improve their speeds by addressing in-home wiring issues. Together, these actions could go a long way to delivering the Government's ambition. For those still unable to receive 2Mbit/s via a fixed network, other technologies are becoming available, such as satellite broadband and 4G mobile broadband.

1.5 We found, however, that broadband speeds seem to be a significant constraint on how much data consumers can use on the internet. Specifically, we found that the amount of data downloaded and uploaded by consumers increases steadily as broadband speeds rise, up to around 8Mbit/s, at which point it remains essentially constant until speeds are reached where 'superfast' services are being used. It is likely that this is caused by consumers with broadband speeds of a few MBit/s being deterred from using data hungry services such as high definition internet TV or large file downloads.

1.6 It is widely recognised that targets such as the USC need to evolve over time if they are to remain effective. The data we have published here suggests that it may be appropriate to consider increasing the USC target in due course. The practicality and timing of such a change must clearly take account of affordability, though we note that there are a number of developments in wireless and fixed line technologies which could help reduce the costs of delivering an increased commitment.

Superfast fixed broadband

1.7 Superfast broadband (SFBB) is now available from commercial providers to 65% of UK premises. A growing number of consumers are replacing their existing broadband services with superfast services: approximately one in ten broadband connections are now superfast, with 7% of premises taking such services.

1.8 It has been recognised for some time that the availability of superfast broadband in the 'final third' of the country will depend not just on activity by commercial operators, but also on appropriately targeted public funding. One of the first such initiatives to come to fruition is in Northern Ireland, and we have used this DETI-funded programme as a case study. We find that it has resulted in SFBB availability of 95%, and take-up of 11%. Similar results should be delivered elsewhere in the country as the procurement programme being managed by BDUK progresses.

1.9 The UK's average broadband speeds have been rising as a result of this accelerating take-up of SFBB and the average speed now stands at 12.7Mbit/s, an increase of 69% from the 7.5Mbit/s recorded in 2011.

1.10 Driven primarily by increased consumption of internet delivered video based services, consumers are using more data than ever: on average, residential fixed broadband customers are using 23GB of data per month (up by 35% from 17GB in 2011).

Mobile services

1.11 As more people use smartphones and access the internet through them, mobile data use has risen rapidly. Total data volumes over mobile broadband have more than doubled over the past year, with an average of 246MB of data consumed for every active SIM. Although the absolute levels of data carried over mobile networks are still much lower than for fixed networks, the growth rate of mobile broadband is much higher, and the commercial launch of 4G mobile services in the UK is likely to accelerate this further.

1.12 Mobile broadband coverage continues to improve. The number of UK premises that cannot receive a 3G signal (and are therefore in a 3G 'complete not-spot') has fallen to 0.9% from 1.2%, while the number of premises that can receive a 3G signal from all mobile operators has increased to 77% from 73%, thanks in part to the deployment of 3G mobile services using 900MHz spectrum.

1.13 But there remain households that cannot receive mobile coverage even for voice services: we estimate that 0.3% of premises are in 'complete not-spots' (they have no 2G mobile coverage) while 6.1% of premises are in 'partial not-spots' (they are not served by all the operators). The Government (-2-) has committed 150m through its Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) to improve mobile coverage in areas where it is currently poor or non-existent, potentially addressing up to 75% of the premises in the complete not-spots.

1.14 We also found that many households are using femto cells to improve their in home coverage. Femto cells are small mobile basestations which provide a mobile signal in the home and to the mobile networks using an existing fixed broadband connection. Over 207,000 femto cells have been deployed.

1.15 For the first time, we asked the biggest fixed and mobile operators about the public Wi-Fi hotspots they manage. Collectively, they provide over 16,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in locations such as cafs, restaurants, trains, pubs, airports and London Underground stations (-3-). However, the data we have gathered suggests that consumers make only limited use of such hotspots when they are out and about, preferring to use their mobile network for internet access. This may be due to the complex process which is often required to log in to such hotspots, and this may change as new technologies enable more seamless access.

Digital switchover and digital radio

1.16 The process of digital TV switchover that began in November 2007, when the analogue terrestrial TV signal in Whitehaven, Cumbria was switched off and replaced with digital television, was completed on 24 October 2012 in Northern Ireland when the UK's final analogue TV signals were extinguished. Due to the extensive planning and co-operation put in place by the Government, Ofcom, Digital UK, broadcasters, transmission providers and others, the process of digital switchover has passed smoothly; so smoothly, in fact, that it has been little commented upon. It is a landmark moment nonetheless.

1.17 Virtually every UK household now has access to digital TV, radio and interactive services, leading not only to greater choice and competition in TV, but also releasing highly sought after UHF spectrum that can be used to extend 4G mobile broadband into most villages, towns and cities in the UK.

1.18 Coverage for DAB digital radio continues to grow. Over the past year, the BBC has improved the coverage of its national multiplex, extending their indoor coverage to 94% of the UK population, and is working towards a target of 97% of households by March 2017. In June this year, the Government, commercial multiplex operators, the BBC, Arqiva and Ofcom signed a memorandum of understanding on the funding to extend local DAB coverage to match existing FM coverage.

Ofcom interactive maps and data

1.19 We have published updated interactive maps on our website that provide more detailed information on the coverage of fixed and mobile networks in different parts of the country:
http://maps.ofcom.org.uk

1.20 We have also made available for download detailed information on the availability of fixed SFBB across the UK and the current speeds received.

UK infrastructure dashboard

1.21 In our report last year, we defined a dashboard to allow us to establish a time series. We have updated this for 2012. The data primarily relates to a one month period starting in mid June 2012.

Figure 1 UK infrastructure dashboard 2012

 

UK network coverage

Fixed telephony (PSTN)

Coverage of fixed line telephony

100% of premises

Fixed broadband

Coverage of broadband at 2Mbit/s or more

Coverage of superfast broadband

89.9% of existing connections

65% of premises

Mobile 2G (outdoor)

Premises served by all operators

Premises not served by any operator

Geographic area coverage by all operators

Geographic area not served by any operator

93.6% of premises

0.3% of premises

58.8% of land area

12.8% of land area

Mobile 3G (outdoor)

Premises served by all operators

Premises not served by any operator

Geographic area coverage by all operators

Geographic area not served by any operator

77.3% of premises

0.9% of premises

19.9% of land area

24.3% of land area

Digital terrestrial television

Households served by three multiplexes
(public service broadcasting channels)

Households served by six multiplexes
(all digital terrestrial television channels)

99%

90%

Digital radio

Households served by BBC national multiplex

Roads served by BBC national multiplex

Households served by the national commercial multiplex

Roads served by the national commercial multiplex


94% of households

83% of roads

85% of households

70% of roads


Capacity (for June 2012)

Fixed broadband

Average fixed broadband modem sync speed

Total data throughput (-4-) on residential fixed lines

Average data throughput per residential connection

12.7Mbit/s (-5-)

484,000,000 GB

23 GB


Mobile

Total number of active mobile connections (-6-)

Total mobile data throughput

Average mobile data throughput per connection

81.7 million

19,700,000 GB

0.24 GB (-7-)

 

See Annex 1 for details of how each metric is calculated and what it represents

Traffic management

1.22 One of the overall themes of this report is that Communications Providers (CPs) are investing more in fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure and technologies. In this update we have also looked in detail at a number of related developments that may affect the customer experience, and/or the capability of the network to meet their expectations, in particular:

  • traffic management practices; and
  • internet interconnection.

1.23 We said in our statement on Net Neutrality (-8-) that we would use this Infrastructure Report to monitor the use of traffic management practices, and consider whether they are consistent with the principles which we set out in our statement. Our view of the current position is that:

  • There are currently no substantive concerns in relation to the traffic management practices used by fixed ISPs.
  • Some mobile operators are blocking some services, such as Skype's VoIP service. This is a concern, but our current view is that competition between operators should be an effective means of addressing it, as long as consumers are made aware of these practices. We have not identified any traffic management practices which are in use by mobile operators and which are not publicly reported.

Network resilience

1.24 Operators are required to report to Ofcom any significant incidents which affect the availability of their networks and services. This is a new requirement, introduced in May 2011, and we are publishing the first full year of reported incidents this year. The majority of incidents reported to Ofcom affect a relatively small number of customers for a short period of time. We will continue to monitor these incident reports to investigate whether there are any trends over time in the nature of these outages.

Footnotes:

  1.-http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/telecoms-research/bbspeeds2011/infrastructure-report.pdf

  2.-http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/telecommunications_and_online/8757.aspx

  3.- Excluding BT's FON' hotspots that utilise existing residential and business wireless access points

  4.- Total throughput includes downloads and uploads

  5.- For the first time the average sync speed includes SFBB lines as there is now a significant take up of superfast services

  6.- In Ofcom's annual Communications Market Report (http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/market-data/communications-market-reports/cmr12/), we reported that 92% of the UK adult population use or own a mobile phone. Therefore around a third of the mobile connections are used by adults with more than one active mobile device

  7.- In last year's report we reported on the average mobile data throughput per 3G connection, therefore this figure is not directly comparable to that published in last year's dashboard (which includes active 3G and 2G SIMs). Average data use per connection for March 2011 was 0.11 GB.

  8.-http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/net-neutrality/statement/statement.pdf

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