OFCOM’s Connected Nations 2016 – how does Bristol fare?

Ultrafast Broadband
28 Dec, 16 by Phil Higgins

OFCOM publishes Connected Nations every year which reports on the UK’s performance around fixed telephony, including broadband, and mobile connectivity. As connectivity is already established as the fourth utility for citizens and a pre-requisite for any forward-looking business wanting to grow, we’ve taken a close look at this report and how it relates to Bristol.  We also consider the challenges Bristol faces as the world makes the jump to ultrafast speeds and the greater availability of full fibre services.

Here are some of the headlines from Connected Nations 2016 and some Bristol findings:

  • 90% of the UK can now access superfast speeds (download at 30 mbit/s or more). In Bristol, this figure is 93% for homes and businesses that can access superfast speeds.
  • On 4G coverage, Bristol fares far better than the UK figure with 97% able to access 4G services indoors, compared to a figure of 72% for the UK.
  • As an indicator of growing data usage, in 2016 the UK saw a 45% increase in data consumption in one month compared to the previous year.
  • The increased availability and take-up of 4G services is also driving increased data usage. Bristol consumed 542 TB of 4G data in 2016, ranking 23rd in the UK for all mobile data and recording a 30% increase over 2015.
  • Despite widespread availability of superfast broadband (SFBB), many people and businesses are not sure how to access it, or the difference it will make, and so take up is relatively low.
  • The OFCOM report notes that SMEs can be poorly served by the availability of superfast broadband with dedicated lease lines being their only option to access SFBB.
  • The average UK download speed of superfast connections now stands at 74Mbit/s, a 14% increase on last year.
  • 7% of Bristol homes and businesses can only access speeds of less than 10 mbit/s
  • Just 0.3% of Bristol can access ultrafast speeds of greater than 300 mbit/s

Considering this report and others published recently, the challenges for connectivity for the city in 2017 are focussed around:

  • Improving choice, competition and the availability of packages at different speeds for Bristol consumers and businesses.
  • Encouraging telecoms service providers to invest in ultrafast and full fibre services in the city to improve the availability of ultrafast and full fibre speeds.
  • Working more effectively with developers to ensure future-proof ultrafast / full fibre services are available in new homes and businesses.
  • Working with the private sector to help bring superfast / ultrafast services to Bristol’s left behind digital communities and businesses (7%) lacking access to superfast speeds. Unfortunately, Bristol is out-of-scope for UK Gov funding for the national superfast roll out programme and also bound by EC state aid rules for investment in urban broadband, so demand-led and the private sector solutions will be necessary.
  • Raise awareness of the difference faster broadband speeds can make to Bristol businesses and residents. Drive take up of faster services which will, in turn, encourage greater investment.
  • Working with the private sector to maximise what the government’s Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund in full fibre and the next generation of 5G services could bring to the city.

Bristol has recently welcomed BT Openreach’s new FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) roll out in parts of the city and Virgin Media’s Project Lightning expansion could also help upgrade the city’s broadband infrastructure. This combined with new investment from Cityfibre’s Gigabit services and the concession let to The Bristol Network to use the council-owned B-net duct network, mean Bristol also has an active alt net (alternative network) sector which will help bring ultrafast services to the city.

In BREXIT Britain, connectivity will be more important than ever as the UK competes with countries far ahead of the UK in rolling out full fibre, ultrafast services. With an important digital and creative sector, and indeed all businesses becoming rapidly dependent on faster connections, a timely and successful transition to ultrafast / full fibre services is critically important to our future prosperity………..