The latest Ofcom Communications Market Report has a nice cosy byline with the idea that as tablets and mobile phones become more capable families are moving back toward the living room and being more social. There is another reason for this and it may simply be that families cannot afford the new TV for the kids after spending a fortune on their new mobile gadgets, or the more cynical may suggest that it is because they need to be close to the Wi-Fi router, rather than hidden away out of sight in the loft attic room.
The 436 page report is not difficult reading, there is just a lot of it and if the need to read the detail is repeated in the other market sectors it is possible that some may draw misleading conclusions from the report. In terms of a Digital Britain the headline is that only 27% premises are not able to access to a NGA broadband connection. What is NGA you may ask, Next Generation Access, which means latest generation DOCSIS 3.0 services from Virgin Media, FTTC (or FTTP) from Openreach or KC and then the long tail of other fibre providers.
- No superfast services available - 27%
- Both cable and fibre - 32%
- Fibre only - 25%
- Cable only - 16%
(Fibre in this case refers to the mixture of FTTC and FTTP products)Ofcom Communications Report on Proportion of premises in postcodes served by NGA networks, by technology
There has been criticism of Openreach with its commercial roll-out of FTTC services in the past, with people complaining it is only overlapping with Virgin Media, but if the data Ofcom has presented is correct, it suggests while there is a significant overlap, there are millions of people where a FTTC service is the only option beyond the usual ADSL2+ based services in terms of fixed line broadband. The 25% of premises piece of the pie equates to around 6.5 million premises.
There is a danger in these figures though, and that is how the coverage is being measured (the Ofcom report does cover this issue, but we are sure politicians will ignore it). By using postcode granularity (UK has some 1.7 million of postcodes) you are overlooking the properties in a postcode that cannot get service, which is common to both Virgin Media and the Openreach cabinet based FTTC services. Additionally Ofcom has not delved into the speeds people can get to give any indication of how may actually qualify as superfast, we have our own estimates derived from old line length between premises and the cabinets information and what is known about VDSL2 performance over distance.
An interesting area is the growth of data consumption, and as far as we can tell there is no new data for fixed line broadband, but there is information on the small buy likely to grow rapidly 4G market. The report quotes EE’s chief executive officer Olaf Swantee as saying that EE 4G users consume some 1.4GB of data, which is a mere fraction of the 23GB per month for a fixed line service, and a different dataset that suggests on 4G that only 29% user more than 1 GB per month. So for those pushing 4G as a fixed line replacement there is still some way to go to show 4G can handle people sitting down to watch a whole box set of a TV series, let alone actually afford the usage costs.