Over 80 percent of UK premises can now access superfast broadband services, up from 75 percent last year, according to new data from Ofcom. However, rural premises and SMBs still lag behind when it comes to getting online at speed.
The regulator’s annual Connected Nations report looks at the state of mobile and fixed broadband access in each of the UK’s countries.
England has the highest penetration, at 84 percent, and Wales has seen the biggest increase over the past 12 months, up from 55 percent to 79 percent of all premises.
The Ofcom report also contains evidence that those with speeds of at least 40Mbps get more from the internet, and their data consumption rises notably as they use services such as Netflix, Skype for HD calls and cloud-based services.
Slow lanes remain
However, despite this growth in high-speed access, Ofcom noted that services are lacking in some areas. For instance, around 2.4 million premises are still unable to access speeds of over 10Mbps.
This problem is particularly acute in rural areas, but Ofcom hopes that government-backed initiatives under BDUK will solve the problem, although it will still take at least two to three years.
Another area of concern is that SMBs could be missing out on the benefits of superfast broadband.
“SMEs still experience poorer superfast broadband coverage compared to consumers as whole. Only 68 percent of SMBs have access to superfast broadband in the UK, compared to 85 percent of all premises. This leaves over 400,000 SMEs without access to superfast broadband,” Ofcom said.
The regulator also noted that around 130,000 SMBs in certain business areas are unable to receive speeds above 10Mbps.
There have been efforts by the government to make it easier for SMBs to access high-speed broadband, such as the Connected Voucher scheme that attracted some 55,000 firms.
However, the fact that so many smaller firms remain without high-speed access will be a concern to the government, as SMBs are vital to the UK economy and high-speed internet access is seen as crucial to their success in the years ahead.
John Allan, the national chairman for the Federation of Small Businesses, said the Ofcom report should serve as a springboard for the government to force through the 10Mbps obligation announced by David Cameron earlier this year.
“Today’s report underlines the importance of the Government’s new commitment to a 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO). This timely measure will help to set an acceptable baseline for speed and quality which will allow firms to take advantage of the benefits of doing more online," he said.
“When the details of the new USO are unveiled, they should include explicit targets for connecting smaller businesses and delivering a reliable, consistent service.”
Mobile coverage improves
Mobile broadband services are also improving. Some 45 percent of UK premises can now access 4G coverage indoors, up from 37 percent last year, and data shows that three of the operators - Vodafone, EE, and O2 - improved their coverage.
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