What progress is Bristol making in its digital infrastructure?

Innovation Ultrafast Broadband
21 Jan, 19 by Phil Higgins

Each year, OFCOM publishes data on the state of fixed broadband and mobile communications in the UK.  2018’s Better Connected report contains the broad national trends in the vital task of improving the nation’s digital infrastructure, as we all become more dependent on the internet.  It also enables us to see how Bristol is progressing.

Better Connected 2018 confirms the trend that homes and businesses are using more data than ever before, and the impressive growth in data consumption is driving the  the imperative of upgrading the nation’s digital infrastructure to full fibre, better 4G and 5G.

Key national findings

  • 88% of adult internet users spend an average of 24 hours online each week, almost double the time spent in 2007
  • People are now able to do more online – on average people now use 240 GB a month on a fixed connection (a growth of 26% compared to last year) which is approximately the equivalent of people downloading 160 films
  • Superfast broadband coverage has increased to 94%. This relates to the availability of fixed broadband with a download speed of at least 30 Mbit/s
  • 211 million gigabytes of mobile data was used in 2018, compared to 156 million gigabytes in 2017, which represents a 35% increase in just one year
  • BUT, even when faster services are available, people don’t necessary take them.  94% of premises have access to superfast broadband, but only 45% of premises have signed up to them.

So, what’s fueling the need for more and faster data:

  • Streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, continue to increase in popularity.  People want to stream in HD, and many in ultra HD, which requires faster, more reliable connections
  • More of us have smartphones than ever before and we’re using them for longer periods
  • Our smarter world has many more connected devices  e.g. Alexa and smarter home devices.  The internet of things (IOT) – the explosion in connected devices – is gathering pace
  • Cloud computing places more emphasis on better quality and faster connections.  Often without realising it, we are embracing cloud computer with cloud storage and cloud applications, whilst businesses are using infrastructure as a service (IaaS) by using cloud servers for storage

What’s happening in Bristol?

Put simply, Bristol’s objectives are full fibre and better mobile communications

2018 was a year of progress in Bristol with Openreach beginning the mass roll out of its Fibre First programme – you may have seen telephone poles in your area with yellow ‘overhead fibre’ labels showing how the fibre is poised to make a final full fibre link to your home or business.

Other companies, like City Fibre, have announced plans for a major investment in citywide roll out of their network.  Smaller providers are taking advantage of the Government’s Gigabit Voucher Scheme for homes and businesses to provide gigabit-ready full fibre broadband with grants up to £2,500 to get quickly connected.   On mobile communications, operators are upgrading their base stations to improve our 4G signal, with Vodafone planning to trial 5G services later in 2019.

  • Superfast broadband coverage (>=30 mbps) is now available to 97% of Bristol’s premises, up from 93% in May 2017
  • Ultrafast broadband (>=300 mbps) is available to 88% of the city, reflecting Virgin Media’s presence and investment in their network
  • The key indicator of full fibre – fibre to the premises – is now at 7% of Bristol’s premises reflecting the ongoing Openreach roll out and the impact of the Gigabit Voucher Scheme.  In May 2017, the figure was just 2%
  • Bristol homes and businesses with superfast+ speeds (>= 30 mbps per month) use an average of 247 GB of data per month.  Those Bristol premises with faster connections use more data – 372 GB per month for those on ultrafast connections (>=300 mbps).  Compared with the previous years, average data use on superfast connections has grown by 26% and on ultrafast by 12% – in just one year.
  • Total mobile data traffic for the city has increased from 836 TB in 2016 to 1598 TB in 2018 – an increase of 91% in just two years
  • 4G coverage of the city is at 100% by all operators

Explore OFCOM’s Better Connected interactive results

How’s Bristol doing on full fibre compared to other UK core cities

Core City Full Fibre availability (% premises)
Sheffield 1.5
Birmingham 3.1
Liverpool 3.8
Nottingham 4.8
Glasgow City 6.5
Manchester 6.5
Cardiff 6.8
Bristol, City of 6.9
Newcastle upon Tyne 6.9
Leeds 7.8

Although not core cities, we do need to acknowledge the impressive performance of Hull (78.9%) – with its telecoms operator that has gone straight to full fibre – and Milton Keynes at 17.5%, that is benefiting from investment by Vodafone / City Fibre with a plan to be 100% full fibre by 2021.

A long way travelled, but a long way to go

Whilst acknowledging the investment and the hard work of crews rolling out Bristol’s full fibre infrastructure, we do need to acknowledge that many European cities are much further ahead on their full fibre roll out programmes.  Countries like Portugal, Spain, Latvia and Lithuania all have over 70% fibre to the premise (FTTP) coverage with the UK languishing on 3-4%, but beginning to pick up pace.

Having said this, the availability of superfast broadband (faster 30 mbps) via hybrid networks – part fibre / part copper – in the UK is ahead of many EU countries at 94%+ availability.

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