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UK superfast broadband boosts traffic levels

UK media regulator Ofcom has published its annual Infrastructure Report update, looking into the coverage and use of broadband and mobile. As of June this year 73 per cent of UK premises could receive superfast broadband, up from 65 per cent a year ago. By ‘superfast’, Ofcom means services as those delivering advertised download speeds of 30Mbit/s or more. Note the word “could”, because not everyone who can receive it actually does. Ofcom has found that 22 per cent of broadband connections are superfast, up from 10 per cent last year, and around 4.8m UK customers have signed up for these services.

To give those figures some background, the Office of National Statistics estimates that 81 per cent of the UK population lives in towns or cities, or 42 million people. Don’t expect superfast broadband if you are part of the remaining 19 per cent.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Superfast broadband is rolling out fast across the country, and 4G mobile will reach at least 98 per cent of the population. This is really good news but there remain considerable challenges, not least in hard-to-reach areas for mobile and home internet services.”

Ofcom adds that 650m gigabytes of data were sent or received by UK internet users over fixed lines in the single month of June – an increase of 26 per cent over the same month last year. So broadband reach has gone up 8 per cent in the year, the adoption of superfast services has risen by 10 per cent, yet traffic volumes have shot up 25 per cent. Anyone care to predict where this is heading?

The report also shows that consumers are also making far greater use of public Wi-Fi ‘hotspots’ – which allow them to access fixed-line internet via their mobile devices, typically in retail outlets. The number of public Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the UK doubled over the year to 34,000, whilst the amount of data being sent or received by consumers in these hotspots almost trebled, to almost 2m gigabytes in a month.

As higher speeds become the norm, Ofcom says that the challenge is to focus on wider coverage for consumers, including those in hard-to-reach areas. Ofcom will also be conducting work aimed at ensuring wider coverage does not come at the expense of service quality.

The European Commission, under its Digital Agenda initiative, wants 100 per cent of European households to have superfast broadband access of at least 30Mbit/s by 2020. Only 14.8 per cent of European fixed broadband lines currently provide an advertised download speed of at least 30Mbit/s, with Belgium leading the way with 60 per cent.

Also see our separate story on Ofcom’s research into mobile coverage on UK roads.

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