Infrastructure Report: 2013 Update

Published 24|10|13


1.1 This report provides a snapshot of the state of the UK communications infrastructure. This is our third annual report and, as in previous years, it focuses on the coverage and capacity of the networks which are used by the large majority of UK consumers.

1.2 There is currently a significant level of public debate about the importance of investment in communications infrastructure. This debate is taking place across Europe , as well as being a key policy issue for the UK Government and for individual nations and local authorities . The information we publish in this Infrastructure Report is intended to provide an objective evidence base for both the development of public policy, and individual consumer choice.

1.3 As highlighted in our Communications Market Report, consumers are demanding more from communications networks. They are connecting more devices and using more services than ever before and are increasingly multitasking – using multiple devices and multiple services at the same time. The boundaries between broadcast and broadband networks are also blurring as connected TVs and set top boxes allow consumers seamlessly to switch between services delivered on different networks.

1.4 This Infrastructure Report considers the implications of these shifts in consumer behaviour for the networks which underpin the provision of all communications services. We look at the ability of existing networks to support current demand, and consider how this is likely to evolve over time.

1.5 The UK is currently in a phase of significant investment in new networks and technologies. Over the last year notable infrastructure developments have included:

  • strong growth in availability and take-up of superfast broadband;
  • the initial deployment of new 4G mobile broadband networks;
  • significant increase in availability and use of public Wi-Fi hotspots; and
  • preparation for the launch of new HD and local TV services on terrestrial TV.

1.6 Most of these developments have been driven by private sector investment. However, the business case for building communications networks in some of the more rural parts of the UK can be challenging. In recognition of this, Government has intervened to substantially extend the reach of superfast broadband, and Ofcom has included a demanding coverage obligation in one of the 4G spectrum licenses. As a result, we expect there to be near universal availability to UK households of next generation fixed and mobile services. The precise date is difficult to predict at this stage, but we expect it to be significantly before the target date of 2020 which has been set by the European Commission, with many of the most rural households seeing improved availability between 2015 and 2017.

1.7 There are some continuing concerns about the availability of services, for a small number of households, and on parts of the UK’s road and rail networks. Some targeted interventions are already in place to address these concerns, but we will be carrying out further analysis to consider whether these are likely to be sufficient.

1.8 As the availability of next generation data services improves, there will be an increased focus on quality of service and the resulting consumer experience. We will therefore also be undertaking further work to explore how the quality of experience on fixed and mobile networks can be measured and the extent to which it varies between operators and in different parts of the UK.