Ofcom integrates 4G into broadband coverage figures in latest Connected Nations report
The latest Ofcom Connected Nations report seems to have pre-emptively worked through the 4G footprints ahead of the launch of the broadband Universal Service Obligation in March 2020 and Ofcom is claiming "that as few as 155,000 homes should be unable to access a decent fixed broadband service, though there is a big caveat "subject to confirmation of individual premises coverage".
This big drop in the number without a USO capable service option is due to the integration of fixed wireless and 4G broadband services into coverage analysis at the 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up connection speeds. If you ignore the impact of fixed wireless and 4G the number of without access to a USO level connection is 610,000 premises.
There is one bit of the report we have not managed to square with those, it is also states "We estimate that 53,000 premises cannot access either a decent fixed broadband service or get good 4G coverage indoors (from any operator)". So is it 155,000 or 53,000?
On the fixed wireless operator side, we believe 89,248 premises with only sub 10 Mbps download speeds via fixed line broadband have access to a fixed wireless operator. So the biggest factor appears to be the 4G coverage from the mobile operators and the improvements in antenna that the 4G home routers can provide and the option of an external antenna.
The headline of 155,000 homes without access to decent broadband is a really good stat to make things look good, but until people have actually decided to try the various other options it is not going to a reality. The danger we foresee is that the mainstream press and politicians will see such a small figure and see the USO now as a job done. This potenitally could mean some local authorities stop the slow drip drip of additional BDUK phases as they recycle savings and gainshare.
Our best case intepretation of the 155,000 figure in relation to the broadband USO, is that those premises in this 155,000 are those where BT thinks it may be able to deploy FTTP to help perhaps 46,000 and the remainder may be those who fail the £3,400 cost limit. The next 465,000 will be in the easy we will post you a 4G home router using the EE network if you agree to pay something in the £25 to £40/m region, with maybe an install visit to add an external antenna on the roof line of the property to improve line of sight.
What do we believe is the situation with regards to slow fixed line broadband, well this is covered in our monthly reports but this does not include all the figures so we'll take this opportunity to share the full set for the slower speeds across the UK.
- Under 2 Mbps download connection speed 162,044 premises (i.e old USC)
- Under 10 Mbps download connection speed 475,098 premises
- Under 15 Mbps download connection speed 695,614 premises
- Under 10 Mbps download AND 1 Mbps upload 755,969 premises (i.e. new USO)
The final figure includes all ADSL and ADSL2+ services, since while ADSL2+ can achieve over 1 Mbps connection speed it is only marginally over 1 Mbps and once overheads are taken into account the public will invariably not see 1 Mbps speeds. We should add that slow VDSL2 can fall into any of the four speed brackets we are discussing.
We suspect that 2020 is going to see a lot of people feeling upset with the broadband USO and with the low level of engagement in what broadband options do exist a large number of these people will only get better broadband if a body was to pro-actively seek these slow premises out and guide them through their options. At this time it seems hard to believe that BT who holds the USO for all the UK apart from Hull will actively point those contacting them at a fixed wireless service provider or non EE 4G option if that is their best chance of over 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up connection speeds.