UK businesses' lament: All I want for Christmas is... decent broadband

Hundreds of thousands of UK enterprises don't have access to basic broadband.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The UK's internet service has improved, but 1.1 million households and businesses still have terrible broadband speeds and significant gaps in 4G coverage remain.

Ofcom's Connected Nations 2017 report shows the UK has made some gains in broadband and mobile data services over the past year, but there are still major deficiencies in speed and coverage.

Households need at least 10Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speeds to get things done online, such as stream an HD movie. Last year, 1.6 million properties had less than 10Mbps down and 1Mbps up.

These are the speeds the UK is looking to guarantee under the government's proposed broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO). In July, BT voluntarily offered to deliver 10Mbps to 99 percent of premises by 2020. The government hasn't decided whether to proceed with introducing the USO.

Ofcom also found that 230,000 of the UK's small businesses -- around seven percent -- can't get decent broadband. In addition, around 500,000 small businesses can't access superfast broadband, defined as 24Mbps.

However, the regulator found that 91 percent of premises, or 26.7 million households, have access to at least 30Mbps, up from 89 percent last year. Now 38 percent of households have a superfast service, up from 31 percent last year.

Fibre connections remain rare in the UK, available to only 840,000 households or three percent of all residential premises. That's up from 498,000 households last year. There are a number of fibre rollout projects from Virgin, Vodafone, and Openreach that should see fibre reach millions more households by the mid-2020s.

But the UK's broadband and mobile data infrastructure is far behind that of internet trailblazer Sweden, where 66 percent of households already have access to fibre and 70 percent are on connections with at least 100Mbps. The Swedish government is aiming for 95 percent of households to have at least 100Mbps by 2020 and ubiquitous stable mobile coverage by 2023.

Ofcom found that 85 percent of mobile users had decent indoor data coverage, up from 80 percent last year. But only 63 percent of the UK's geography has mobile data services and a paltry 43 percent has 4G coverage from all mobile operators: 22 percent of the UK is not covered by any operator offering 4G.

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