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Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2015 report has revealed good progress on the availability and take-up of broadband and mobile services, underlying their criticality to the lives of most Britons.
Ofcom’s latest data shows overall take-up of broadband has grown from 73% to 78% in the past 12 months, with the average download speed up from 23Mbps to 28Mbps in 2015, while monthly data usage grew from 58GB to 82GB in the same period.
Take-up of superfast broadband, defined by Ofcom as a service delivering speeds of 30Mbps to 300Mbps, currently stands at 27%, up from 21%, with 83% of UK premises covered, up from 75% in 2014. The average speed of a superfast connection is 63Mbps, up from 54Mbps, and superfast users are downloading 112GB a month.
Ofcom also included stats on ultrafast broadband, meaning a service offering more than 300Mbps, for the first time. Overall, only 2% of UK premises can currently access such a service, with take-up at 0.003%.
Nevertheless, the regulator identified the usual challenges around broadband, with around 8% of properties currently incapable of receiving speeds of more than 10Mbps, amounting to around 2.4 million homes. Small businesses also faced problems, particularly those located in areas such as business parks, where around 130,000 small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) cannot receive speeds of more than 10Mbps.
Ofcom estimated that by 2017, when 95% of all UK premises are supposed to have superfast broadband, around 18% of SMEs will be without it.
When it came to mobile coverage, Ofcom found that around 73% of premises can receive a 4G connection from three in four of the UK’s national networks, up from 44% this time in 2014, and 46% had coverage from all four.
But despite the advanced 4G rollout, the proportion of the UK’s landmass able to receive a signal from all four operators was still stuck at 55% since last year, suggesting that in the 12 months since then culture secretary Sajid Javid struck a major agreement with EE, O2, Three and Vodafone to address the issue of not-spots, little work has taken place.
Speaking to the BBC on 1 December 2015, Ofcom CEO Sharon White said that in general progress had been good, but added there was still much to do, especially when it came to improving quality of service for users.
White also gave another clear hint that Ofcom was taking the possibility of forcibly splitting BT and Openreach apart seriously.
“We are looking at four options. I think our expectation is that we will see some reform,” she said.
Speed of Christmas lights
Ofcom has also released a free Wi-Fi checker app for smartphones and tablets to allow consumers to find out more information about the quality of their wireless broadband signal and take practical steps towards getting the best from their connection.
Ofcom said wireless broadband may not be working as well as it could in nearly six million UK homes, and a good amount of the time this was down to the Wi-Fi network set-up, or interference from other electronic devices such as microwaves, baby monitors or – in a sop to the tabloids – Christmas tree lights.
Andrew Ferguson, editor at broadband comparison site thinkbroadband.com, said that it was unlikely Christmas decorations would have much impact.
“Generally Christmas lights only interfere with telephone-based broadband. Wi-Fi is not affected by them as Wi-Fi operates at much higher frequencies than the bulk of radio noise poor electric circuits generate,” said Ferguson.