Ofcom publishes Connected Nations 2016 report
The UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has released its analysis of UK broadband coverage and speeds for 2016, and there are some headline grabbing facts, such as 'Digital divide declines, but 1.4 million homes cannot get decent broadband'. The 1.4 million homes statement is referring to the number of premises who only have access to a fixed line broadband service of under 10 Mbps earlier in 2016.
Another headline that is likely to be seen a lot is that the UK has superfast broadband available to 89% of premises (30 Mbps and faster definition). The important part here is that this is a figure from May/June 2016 and rolling back our data it seems we are in agreement. Ofcom for 2016 is apparently working at the premises level, i.e. dealing with a dataset of 29 million premises, where we with a lot less resources available are working at the postcode level, so to be in such close agreement supports work we did back in 2011/2012 that showed that once you get above exchange sized groups of households that using the majority result for a postcode was reliable enough for tracking what the BDUK process was or was not delivering. There are some places in the Ofcom report where 12% are said to not have access to superfast broadband, which is at odds with their declaration of 89% superfast coverage, the presumption is that rounding errors have come into effect, which is a shame as if working to the premises level declaring percentage figures to several decimal places should be easy.
So back to the 1.4 million premises needing USO work, and it is now significantly smaller at 1.1 million premises and for decision makers this change and the pace of it is important, since delivering a solution to less premises becomes easier and worries about cost constraints might lead to the adoption of a poor solution to the problem. Ofcom does project some estimates, i.e. under 10 Mbps will drop to 4% by end of 2017 and 1% in the early 2020s.
Ofcom details three scenarios for the Universal Service Obligation.
- Scenario 1, 1.1 million premises affected and based on not getting 10 Mbps from fixed line services. Any solution delivering 10 Mbps suitable with an estimated cost of £1.1 billion. Ofcom estimates this will be 0.3 million premises in early 2020s.
- Scenario 2, 2.6 million premises affected, 10 Mbps download speed and a upload speed of 1 Mbps, medium latency (this appears to mean satellite is excluded), 50:1 contention ratio and 100 GB monthly usage allowance. Ofcom estimates the number in this scenario will be 2% in the early 2020s.
- Scenario 3, 3.5 million premises, i.e. deliver a superfast solution of 30 Mbps and faster and uploads of 6 Mbps. Unlimited data allowance and committed information rate of 10 Mbps. Based on existing coverage a cost of around £2 billion is estimated. Ofcom estimates that in the early 2020s this will be 4% or 1.1 million premises
With Ofcom modelling 4% of the UK not having a superfast connection option in the early 2020's, this suggests the regulator believes that only 1% extra coverage will be delivered post 2017. The USO report does consider how peoples needs will change and that 10 Mbps may well not be enough in 2020, and dare we say it but if superfast roll-outs deliver the 95% in just over 12 months time and clawback work and commercial infill in urban areas continues and can push into the 97% to 98% region that making the USO a superfast one seems the way to go, only using lesser solutions for those outside cost thresholds.
For those having their works Christmas party tonight, have a glass of champagne as the UK average broadband speed has changed 'The average download speed of all active connections in the UK is now 37Mbit/s, an increase of 28% from 29Mbit/s in 2015'. Alas what is missing in many places where Ofcom use this figure is that this is the sync speed as supplied by broadband providers and thus with providers like Virgin Media over provisioning by 10% e.g. 100 Mbps service connects at 110 Mbps and the impact the transport layers have on IP throughput plus IP Profiling on BT Wholesale connections it is no surprise that we report lower speeds, our modelled speed for the UK is 25.7 Mbps and observed is 23.9 Mbps (modelled figures excludes mobiles and tablets to reduce impact of Wi-Fi and corrects for market share of different providers). Where we do agree closely is that if everyone bought the fastest connection available that the averages would be a lot higher, Ofcom states around 132 Mbps and we are declaring 129.8 Mbps. What we do on a monthly basis is report on the performance of ultrafast pure fibre (FTTH/FTTP) and availability of FTTH and FTTP increases expect to be able to talk about more providers.
"It is not clear from this data why some consumers are choosing not to take superfast services where they are available and further market research is needed. In order for superfast broadband take up to continue growing at the same rate as it has in the past, providers may need to consider new approaches for attracting customers, including articulating its benefits more clearly and lowering prices further.Ofcom on superfast takeup
The Ofcom report acknowledges the increasing level of superfast take-up but suggests the rate of take-up may be slowing down and that prices may need to lower even further. Balancing this against the Governments, Ofcom and the peoples desire for a much higher availability of fibre to the premises across the UK is going to be a difficult task.