Ofcom looks backwards and forwards

Wintertime is a period for both reflection and planning. It is in this spirit that Ofcom has published its yearly Connected Nations report, outlining connectivity in all four UK nations, on the same day as it put forward its regulatory change to enable drone operation beyond visual range.

Broadband

Connected Nations 2022 reveals that full-fibre deployments saw the largest yearly increase in rollout of 14%, with 12.4 million premises (42%) now connected to full fibre. The success of the full-fibre rollout in Northern Ireland is shown by the fact that Northern Irish rural coverage is, in fact, higher than urban coverage in Great Britain at 65%.

Gigabit-capable broadband has also reached 70% of premises in the UK, a 23% increase in the last year. Northern Ireland’s urban areas again lead the way on gigabit-capable broadband, while Scotland’s rural areas have the fewest gigabit-capable connections.

Overall, rollout is increasing in both urban and rural areas, but urban areas are still leading in the rapidity of their rollout. The UK government is taking steps to address this with its latest Project Gigabit update, but what else can be done to improve the rollout of full-fibre? techUK’s report FTIR: Fit to Deliver for 5G and Full-Fibre Four Years On provides more details on how this rollout can be improved for both rural and urban communities.

Outside the 5G and full-fibre rollouts, superfast broadband is now available at 97% of UK premises, continuing to provide significant coverage of the UK landmass. Combined with the increase in mobile rollout, it is estimated that only 0.3% of premises now cannot get a decent fixed connection or mobile signal. The UK Government is currently trialling satellite connectivity to solve this.

Mobile

2022 has been a no less exciting time for mobile, with 5G connectivity up from 42-57% to 67-77%. This doesn’t just represent an increase in urban usage, but in increasingly rural deployments. 5G usage has also increased from 3% to 9% of mobile traffic across the UK. The Shared Rural Network has also led to an increase in 4G coverage, from 79-86% to 80-87% coverage of the UK, with good mobile coverage from at least one MNO now found in 92.2% of areas. 

Another exciting development in mobile is in the field of private networks. techUK ran a future private networks campaign week in 2022, showing the potential these have for UK enterprise. Ofcom's Connected Nations 2022 report shares that 900 shared access licenses have now been issued, up from 550 in 2021. 91% of these are in England, with 4.5% in Wales and 3.5% in Scotland. 7 MNO-led private networks in the UK have also evolved into 26 using 4G or 5G. This represents the start of an exciting future for mobile-based private networks.

Telecoms security and energy resilience

Following commencement in October, Ofcom will now begin its compliance and enforcement duties under the Telecoms Security Act and will report in future Connected Nations reports. techUK is hosting an industry workshop to discuss the first three months since the Act’s commencement in January 2023, allowing best practice to be shared and issues discussed.

Ofcom also outlined the effects of the winter storms in 2021-22, namely the need for telecoms networks to include energy in their systems thinking. Energy efficiency is indeed a paramount concern amongst network operators today, which is why techUK is looking at energy efficient networks in our roundtable series with the CSA Catapult in the new year.

Overall, the year has been one of improving digital connectivity, but crucial challenges remain in the connection of the hardest-to-reach areas and in ensuring rural areas are not left digitally-divided from the rest of the UK. 2023 should see this gap close further through new programmes to bring the best connectivity to all parts of the UK.

Spectrum for drones

Of course, Ofcom is looking to the future too, and have announced a new UAS Operator Radio Licence for the use of drone equipment that enables beyond visual range operation.

The licence covers UK drones and a set list of radio equipment, to be reviewed by Ofcom, for operation, and while the recently opened 14.25-14.5 GHz band will be covered by the licence, it will NOT replace the 2.4 and 5 GHz licenses. Other rules that remain unchanged include the need for written permission from a connectivity provider to use their network for a drone, the need for CAA compliance to operate the drone, and transmission in the 2.6 GHz range remains banned to protect air traffic control radar.

Ofcom have issued this licence due to the potential that beyond visual range drones have for the market, including for deliveries, and this hold the opportunity for a variety of use cases going forward.


 

Sophie James

Sophie James

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Manuel R. Marti

Manuel R. Marti

Programme Manager, UK SPF and Satellite, techUK

Julia Ofori-Addo

Julia Ofori-Addo

Programme Assistant, Central Government, Digital Connectivity Forum, Comms Infrastructure, UK SPF, techUK

Archie Breare

Archie Breare

Telecoms Programme Intern, techUK

 

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