Ofcom: UK tepid on super-fast broadband

Ofcom: UK tepid on super-fast broadband

Summary: An Ofcom report has found that take up of super-fast broadband in the UK is very low despite now being available in many parts of the country.The communications watchdog released the information on Wednesday as part of its sixth annual International Communications Market Report.

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TOPICS: Mobility
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An Ofcom report has found that take up of super-fast broadband in the UK is very low despite now being available in many parts of the country.

The communications watchdog released the information on Wednesday as part of its sixth annual International Communications Market Report. The report looks at internet services on offer to consumers and the way in which they use them.

"In terms of availability of super-fast services the UK compares favourably [with other European countries], with 48 percent of households passed by Virgin Media's cable service in June 2010 and around 20 percent passed by BT's fibre-to-the-cabinet services (FTTC)." The UK defines superfast broadband as faster than 24Mbps.

However, despite the apparent availability of super-fast broadband services, uptake in the UK has been slow, with only around 4 percent signing up for the services in June 2011.

Despite the seemingly lacklustre uptake, that figure compares well with some European countries such as Germany and Spain — with 3 percent and 2.2 percent respectively — which have similar levels of adoption. Sweden fares better with around 13.3 percent adoption rates.

"Our take up of smartphones compared to the likes of France and Germany would suggest we're a nation of early adopters, and the survey also shows we're streets ahead in terms of superfast broadband connections — though it's telling that take up is extremely low. For many, super-fast broadband is simply an unnecessary expense," Ernest Doku, technology expert at uSwitch said.

Comparing it to non-EU countries such as Japan or the US, both of which began investing in the infrastructure earlier than the UK, casts the situation in a less favourable light. Nearly 40 percent of consumers have signed up for superfast services in Japan — many of which are up to 100Mbps — and around ten percent have super-fast broadband in the US.

The findings, in some part, contrast comments from Sean Williams director of strategy, policy and portfolio at BT, made at a Westminster e-Forum in November, at which he said consumers were keen to sign up to super-fast services. He added that the Infinity product — which currently offers download speeds of up to 40Mbps — is being made available to around 1m premises every three months.

"[It] is a hugely rapid deployment" Williams said. "We've had 300,000 subscribers already." In the UK, Virgin Media is the only provider to offer 100Mbps services right now but BT plans to "roughly double" the speed of its FTTC services to around 80Mbps during 2012. It is also planning to offer 300Mbps fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connections.

Mobile broadband usage in the UK fared somewhat better, with Ofcom finding that the UK and Japan had the highest rates of mobile data usage.

"The increasing take-up of powerful mobile devices, the availability of fast mobile networks and the ever-growing availability of internet applications and services — many of which are mobile-specific — means that consumers are downloading and uploading an increasing quantity of data," Ofcom said.

However, despite the increase in use of mobile broadband services via smartphones and dongles, Ofcom said the UK is still lagging behind other countries in 4G LTE deployment, in part because of delays to the 4G spectrum auctions.

"Due to the greater availability of spectrum and a general focus on mobile rather than fixed-line infrastructure, the BRIC countries are ahead of many other countries, including the UK, in rolling out LTE networks," Ofcom added.

Topic: Mobility

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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