Ofcom reports dire state of UK broadband

Ofcom has published its latest Infrastructure Report for 2014, which looks into the UK’s communications infrastructure, and the coverage and performance of broadband, mobile and landline networks.

When it comes to fixed (as opposed to mobile) broadband, Ofcom noted that it was “almost universally available” with an average UK speed of 23Mbps. That said, there’s still 3 per cent of the country which falls below the “basic broadband” threshold of 2Mbps, and while that percentage is small, those affected truly are digitally hamstrung, so to speak.

At the other end of the scale, superfast broadband, which Ofcom defines as 30Mbps or better, is now available to three-quarters of the UK, with 21 per cent having signed up for it.

Perhaps the most worrying statistic, though, is the fact that 18 per cent of homes have no access to the internet, either fixed or mobile broadband (27 per cent don’t have fixed broadband, incidentally, meaning that 9 per cent prefer to rely on 3G/4G mobile rather than take a fixed line and have to pay rental on it).

Ofcom’s report also looked at the availability of NGA (next-generation internet access, which is mostly fibre-to-the-cabinet or FTTC), noting that this is a service SMEs will be increasingly interested in given the potential savings compared to a costly leased line.

However, the availability of NGA (from BT and Virgin Media) to SMEs (with 250 staff or less) is lower than the 75 per cent superfast coverage for UK premises overall, with only 56 per cent of SMEs hooked up.

Ofcom said: “We will be investigating the scale of the residual concern, and potential solutions, in the work we have recently announced on the availability and choice of communications services for SMEs.”

As for mobile coverage, when it came to voice calls, only 0.3 per cent of outdoor areas in the UK have no signal from any operator – and 2 per cent of indoor locations. 3 per cent of outdoor areas are “partial not-spots”, or areas where at least one network has a signal, but not all of them – with that rising to 16 per cent indoors.

3G mobile broadband has a lower availability than 2G, of course, with Ofcom stating that 16 per cent of UK premises are in partial or total not-spots for outdoor coverage, going up to 29 per cent indoors.

As for 4G, Ofcom notes that “good progress has been made” with the rollout, and 4G coverage stands at 72 per cent of premises in the UK right now, with it expected to swiftly overtake 3G coverage to “provide a substantial improvement in the availability of mobile broadband”.