UK: state of the nation’s broadband – more fibre needed

News

Ofcom’s annual Communications Market Report finds broadband speeds are up by 18%, but separate monitoring shows the need for more transparency at Openreach.

In the Communications Market Report, Ofcom stated that during 2018, some 2.2 million households moved to ‘superfast’, that is 30+ Mbps, broadband.

This equates to 15.6 million connections out of the overall total of 26.6 million UK households’ broadband connections.

This makes the average residential download speed is now 54.2Mbps, a rise of 18% since the last Communications Market review.

Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) superseded ADSL for the first time, while a total of 500,000 full fibre connections were deployed, close to double the 2017 number at about 7%.

Impact on ranking

The average full-fibre penetration rate according to the FTTH Council’s European ranking is 36.4%.

The UK made it into the ranking – the main criterion is to pass the threshold of 1% – for the first time last March in last place at 34.

Average data use per fixed broadband line grew by 26% in 2018 to reach 240Gb per month while the average monthly total for mobile data connection grew by almost as much at 25% to 2.9Gb.

The increase in both is mostly down to the rise of streaming video.

Openreach’s progress

Although Ofcom said it was pleased with the progress of Openreach operating as a separate entity, although still owned by BT, it needs to try harder.

The regulator published a report by its Openreach Monitoring Unit looking at how well this changed arrangement is working between April 2018 and March 2019.

The regulator said there have been advances in a better balance regarding BT’s oversight of the unit, Openreach’s independent governance and its strategic and financial planning.

However, the regulator said greater transparency is needed into that balance and how it can be sustained.

The split was implemented in 2017 after Ofcom had threatened to force BT to spin off Openreach.

Instead the regulator compromised on Openreach becoming a separate legal entity and the transfer of more than 30,000 staff from BT.

Many think this did not go far enough. Doubts remain among wholesale customers regarding being given fair and equal treatment compared to BT.

There are also concerns that Openreach shares information about its customers with the wider BT corporation.

Higher targets

Openreach's ultrafast network strategy was put in place, many think, to dissuade the regulator from forcing BT to sell Openreach.

In May, Openreach raised its target to pass 3 million homes by March 2021 to 4 million, and a somewhat woolly promise, to increase this to 15 million premises in around five years or so.

Ofcom observed, "This is not a firm commitment. We will continue to monitor Openreach's fibre roll-out as an indicator of its contribution to the UK's broadband needs.

“We will seek further clarity on how the ambition of reaching 15 million premises will be achieved, backed by BT investment."

Sign of the times

Ofcom's report looks at that increasingly important, if tricky to assess, area of Openreach’s corporate culture in its report, and found that it had developed its own culture, distinct from that of BT.

Both BT and Openreach have used consultants to assess their cultures and areas to improve.