Friday, February 01, 2013

Ofcom, ITU & European Union Broadband Statistics update


A summary of some interesting recent broadband statistics:

From Ofcom’s Infrastructure Report (December 2012 update) re UK broadband availability, speeds and monthly data consumption:
“Current generation broadband is available in close to 100% of premises in the UK. Overall take-up of fixed broadband services is now around 71% of UK premises…We found that 10% of all UK connections had fixed broadband speeds of less than 2Mbit/s this year, a significant improvement on the 14% recorded last year.” 
“Superfast broadband (SFBB) is now available from commercial providers to 65% of UK premises. A growing number of consumers are replacing their existing broadband services with superfast services: approximately one in ten broadband connections are now superfast, with 7% of premises taking such services.” 
 "The UK’s average broadband speeds have been rising as a result of this accelerating take-up of SFBB and the average speed now stands at 12.7Mbit/s, an increase of 69% from the 7.5Mbit/s recorded in 2011.  Driven primarily by increased consumption of internet delivered video based services, consumers are using more data than ever: on average, residential fixed broadband customers are using 23GB of data per month (up by 35% from 17GB in 2011)."
Full document here and commentary from ISP Review here.

From Ofcom’s International Communications Market Report press release, re increasing UK mobile usage:
“Ofcom’s report shows that the UK has one of the highest penetrations of smartphones, at 58%, while just under one in five (19%) has a tablet computer. UK consumers are using laptops, smartphones and other connected devices to access the internet more often than other countries…In December 2011, the average UK mobile connection used 424 megabytes of data, whether for social networking, streaming videos, web browsing or downloading music. This was higher than any other major country…One sixth (16%) of all website traffic in the UK was on a mobile, tablet or other connected device, higher than any other country in Europe.”
Full document here.

From Ofcom’s Telecommunications Market Data Update Q2 2011, re UK fixed broadband connections and call volumes:
 “The total number of non-corporate fixed broadband connections passed 20 million for the first time during the quarter, and there were 20.3 million at the end of June 2011, 7.3% more than there had been a year previously.” 
“For the second successive quarter mobile-originated call volumes (30.7 billion minutes) were higher than fixed-originated call volumes, with mobile now accounting for 51.3% of outgoing call volumes, though mobile call volumes still fell 1.6% compared to Q2 2010.”
Commentary from ISP Review here.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) report Measuring the Information Society 2012 reveals  there are now almost as many mobile phone subscriptions (six billion) as people in the world (7 billion). From the ITU press release:
 “The new data, released in ITU’s flagship annual report Measuring the Information Society 2012, rank the Republic of Korea as the world’s most advanced ICT economy, followed by Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland. Of the ten top-ranked countries, eight are from Europe. The two remaining countries both come from the Asia-Pacific region, with the Republic of Korea in first place, and Japan ranked 8th. The top five countries have not changed their rank between 2010 and 2011. The only new entrant in the top ten is the UK, which moved up from 14th place last year to 9th place in 2012." 
“The report also shows that the ICT sector has become a major contributor to economic growth. In 2010, global exports of ICT goods accounted for 12% of world merchandise trade, and as much as 20% in developing countries. ITU data show that global revenues from telecommunication services reached USD 1.5 trillion in 2010, corresponding to 2.4 % of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). In the same year, investment (measured by capital expenditure) in telecommunications amounted to more than USD 241 billion, or an estimated 2% of the world’s total gross fixed capital formation.”
Coverage from the BBC here.

Finally the European Union’s Study on Broadband Coverage 2011 ("Mapping progress towards the coverage objectives of the Digital Agenda") reports that:
“…the European Union already has standard broadband available for the great majority of EU homes, 95.7%, over 200 million altogether. It is also now half-way towards the goal of 30Mbps access for all by 2020. Over 50% of EU homes – 105 million - already had NGA broadband available to them. The gap is inevitably larger in rural areas, particularly where NGA is concerned. 78% of rural EU homes have access to standard broadband but only 12% - 5 million - have NGA available. Thus 35 million of the 40 million rural homes in Europe are waiting for NGA to arrive. Bringing it to them is likely to require considerable effort and investment.”

Thursday, January 31, 2013

UK Broadband Policy Update January 2013


A summary of recent broadband policy developments.

Super-Connected Cities: On 5th December 2012, as part of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, the twelve cities that will receive funding under the secondwave of the Super-Connected Cities initiative were announced: Brighton and Hove, Cambridge, Coventry, Derby, Oxford, Portsmouth, Salford, and York in England; Aberdeen and Perth in Scotland; Newport in Wales; and Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland.  The total sum allocated to the 12 cities is £50 million, the individual allocation to each city is yet to be announced (DCMS press release here).  The Autumn Statement was accompanied by the publication of an updated National Infrastructure Plan, reporting on progress towards the Government’s targets for a range of infrastructure developments including broadband.

Super-connected city developments are also continuing in the USA: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced its Gigabit City Challenge, calling for at one gigabit community in every state by 2015 (more from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski here).  An article on ArsTechnica reports that Google’s fibre initiative in Kansas City is “not a hobby”, speculating where Google might choose to expand the roll-out of its gigabit fibre programme.

State Aid - UK decision and new European Guidelines published: In January 2013, the European Commission published the text of its state aid decision on BDUK’s umbrella notification scheme, following the announcement that the scheme had been approved in November 2012.  This provides an insight into the criteria adopted by BDUK to determine if basic and superfast broadband services are affordable: “Access to basic broadband infrastructure is not affordable if the installation cost is £100+ and/or the rental price is £25+…BDUK is working at present on the basis that access to NGA broadband infrastructure is not affordable if the installation cost is £200+ and/or the rental price is £30-£50+.”  Commentary from ISP Review here and ThinkBroadband here.

The state aid decision also gives further information on the eligibility of wireless for state aid in broadband deployments: “Such alternative technology could also be eligible for state aid provided that i) the average speeds are at least doubled compared to the existing speeds; ii) it is able to provide reliably at least 30 Mbps speeds in the target areas and iii) there is a commitment to upgrade to fibre components when economically viable…the Commission is of the opinion that recent technological and market developments made it possible for certain FWA networks to provide NGA capabilities in low density, rural areas and they can be competing alternatives to FTTC networks.  Therefore FWA networks meeting the requirements of paragraph (42) and (74) of the decision can be qualified as NGA for the purposes of establishing the “colour” of the target area under the Broadband Guidelines and eligible for state aid under the scheme.”

In December the European Commission adopted revised guidelines on the use of state aid in relation to broadband networks, following the previous consultation process. More on this here; the list of Commission decisions on state aid to broadband has also been updated.

WCIT-12 outcomes: In December, at the World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12), the UK and USA were amongst several countries that refused to sign the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) proposals to revise Internet governance (ISP Review commentary here).  In the run up to the conference many organisations had expressed their objections to the ITU’s proposals, including Google (commentary from the BBC here) , the European Parliament and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF).  There was also some dispute between the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) and the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) over the ITU’s proposals, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) previously published a report describing how current arrangements continue to function very effectively, negating the need for change.  Wired provided a useful background to WCIT-12 and the final acts of the conference are available here.  BBC News reported the opening of the conference,  the intensification of divisions, the decision to redraft the controversial proposals and the eventual refusal of the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK to sign them.

Ofcom developments: The UK’s 4G auction process finally began in January 2013, following Ofcom’s announcement of the bidders on 20th December 2012: Everything Everywhere Limited (UK), HKT (UK) Company Limited (a subsidiary of PCCW Limited), Hutchison 3G UK Limited, MLL Telecom Ltd, Niche Spectrum Ventures Limited (a subsidiary of BT Group plc), Telefónica UK Limited and Vodafone Limited.  4G services in addition to those already offered by Everything Everywhere following its 4G launch on 30th October 2012 (more here) are expected to be up and running by late spring 2013.  A Financial Times article (“Superfast Internet benefit put at £20bn”) reports that Ofcom economists “had calculated a £20bn consumer benefit during the next 10 years from the provision of 4G services.  The regulator has used a ‘consumer surplus’ figure – a measure of the benefit that people gain from consuming goods and services – which is often adopted when analysing the impact of government intervention in markets.”

Other recent Ofcom developments include new consultations on white space technology (press release here and more on white spaces here), for which the University of Strathclyde has been established as the UK’s centre of expertise according to ISP Review, and measuring mobile voice and data quality of experience.

Wales & Scotland: In January 2013, the Welsh Government announced the commencement of work to deploy high speed fibre broadband across Wales and also the investment of £39 million in broadband for schools (commentary from ISP Review here).  In November 2012, DCMS published its response to the Broadband Services in Wales report, prepared by the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee.  The report raised a number of concerns about current broadband policy; however, the response did not propose any changes, as recorded in ISP Review’s commentary, echoing the response provided in relation to the previous House of Lords report on broadband.  In Scotland, ISP Review reported that the £1 million European Rural Broadband Challenge Fund (RBCF) and Outer Hebrides LEADER programme have successfully helped to fund and develop a new fibre optic network, which has been used to bring superfast broadband to five of the six houses in the tiny Highlands and Islands village of Dalmore.  An earlier ISP Review article explored the impact independence could have on broadband performance, availability and price in Scotland.  More on recent developments in Scotland and Wales here.

The Superfast & The Furious: In January 2013 think tank the Policy Exchange published The Superfast and the Furious: priorities for the future of UK broadband policy (press release here). This argued that current has policy prioritised speed over coverage when the case for using taxpayers’ money to subsidise very fast connectivity remains (in the report’s view) weak.  Instead, the report suggested the Government should focus on helping the 10.8 million people not online - half of whom are over 65 - and do more to help small businesses make the most of the opportunities presented by the Internet.  Commentary from ISP Review here and ThinkBroadband here.

DCMS & Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) developments: On 23rd January 2013 Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries delivered a speech to the Oxford Media Convention, heralding the forthcoming Communications White Paper (more here) and reporting on progress.  This was followed the next day by a press release outlining the “Fast Start” initiative, to streamline the roll-out of superfast broadband once contracts for delivery are in place.   The scheme will be trialled in Norfolk following their contract award to BT in December 2012. Other recent BT wins include South Gloucestershire & Wiltshire, Devon & Somerset, Suffolk, Herefordshire & Gloucestershire and Cumbria .

Finally the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) launched its 2013 work programme in January (press release here): “In 2013 the BSG will lead…on better  understanding the links between  the provision of broadband infrastructure, the uses this infrastructure supports and the benefits that ensue."  This will build on the findings of the previous 2012 BSG report, Demand for Superfast Broadband.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

European Commission clears UK umbrella support scheme for broadband investment


The European Commission has (finally) approved Broadband Delivery UK's application to act as a "national competence centre", enabling it to work with local authorities to ensure that urban and rural broadband investment projects are in keeping with European state aid and competition regulations:
""BDUK, as a national competence centre, will assist local granting authorities in designing and implementing successful broadband support measures in line with EU competition rules. The umbrella scheme will be a big step towards the achievement of the EU Digital Agenda targets and a strong impetus for growth in the UK" said Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia. The UK notified plans to set up an umbrella scheme for implementing around 140 local broadband support projects without individual state aid notifications to the Commission. The Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme aims to provide as many UK homes and businesses as possible with access to superfast broadband infrastructure in the so-called "final third" areas. These areas are typically low-density, rural areas, where commercial operators are unlikely to invest in high quality broadband networks. The total value of aid to be delivered by the scheme is estimated around GBP 1.5 billion (€1.8 billion)."
DCMS press release here; coverage from the BBC here and Br0kenTeleph0n3 here. The final text of the decision (which isn't yet available) should make for interesting reading when it's released, if the previous notification in relation to Birmingham's broadband investment plans is anything to go by. Let's hope that this latest approval goes unchallenged though.

Spectrum & wireless developments


Lots of spectrum and wireless updates recently, over and above Ofcom's announcement earlier this month of the final regulations and timetable for the 4G mobile spectrum auction.

DCMS has published a new report (news item here) on the impact of radio spectrum on the UK economy, which found its use is worth more than £50 billion a year. Coverage from ISP Review here and the FT here ("Value of spectrum up 25% in five years").

Ofcom has published plans "to enable the release of new airwaves for future generations of mobile devices, which will help meet consumers’ growing demand for data on the move" (press release here and further information for consumers here). According to Ofcom, 20 million Gigabytes of data is now being consumed in a month over the country’s mobile networks – more than twice as much as last year (9 million Gigabytes) -  the equivalent of downloading 5 billion music tracks. By 2030, demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher than today. Ofcom is preparing plans now to support the release of spectrum for future mobile services, possibly ‘5G’, when the spectrum becomes available. Coverage from ISP Review here and the BBC here.

The ITU has also published a new report on spectrum (Digital Dividend: insights for spectrum decisions, press release here) focussing on the benefits arising from freeing up spectrum by moving TV broadcasting from analogue to digital, a process now complete in the UK.

Ireland recently completed its 4G spectrum auction, with the winning bids much higher than had been anticipated. According to the FT ("Ireland’s 4G auction exceeds expectations"), "Ireland has sold its 4G high-speed mobile-phone spectrum to four existing operators for €855m in an auction that netted more cash than expected for its heavily indebted government. Vodafone, Telefónica, Meteor and Three all won significant slices of spectrum in a competition, which shares many similarities with the UK’s 4G auction due to begin early next year." More from Ireland's regulator ComReg here and here.

A recent decision from the European Commission "paves the way for 4G in Europe":
"The European Commission has today decided to add another 120 MHz to the radio spectrum portfolio for 4G technologies, such as LTE (Long Term Evolution), around the 2 GHz band. This band is currently solely used for UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) wireless communications, known as 3G networks. The Decision makes it mandatory for Member States to open the relevant spectrum by 30 June 2014 at the latest, and lays down harmonised technical conditions to allow coexistence between different technologies. On this basis the EU will enjoy up to twice the amount of spectrum for high speed wireless broadband as in the United States, namely around 1000 MHz. The Commission's decision means mobile operators will have more opportunities to invest in improved mobile networks, which benefits the whole economy, and consumers will, over time, enjoy faster data transfers and more broadband services."
Coverage from ISP Review here and ThinkBroadband here. Finally, some speculation from ISP Review and ThinkBroadband about future white space technology possibilities.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Ofcom finalises 4G auction rules


Ofcom today released the final regulations and a timetable for the 4G mobile spectrum auction (press release here). This follows the publication of its plans for the auction process in July 2012.

The process commences on 11 December 2012, the provisional date for the submission of applications by prospective bidders, with new services expected to be launched in May/June 2013. Ofcom has published a full statement on the auction together with a new 4G consumer page which provides an overview of what we should expect from 4G services.

Today's announcement hopefully represents the end of a long period of uncertainty over the future of 4G in the UK. 4G services are already available in some parts of the country, following Ofcom's decision to allow Everything Everywhere (now re-branded as EE) to launch 4G services at  the end of October 2012 in advance of the auction, based on its existing spectrum holdings. This led to threats of litigation from the other UK mobile operators: unable to launch rival services until they have acquried the necessary spectrum via Ofcom's auction, other operators initially viewed Ofcom's decision as giving EE an unfair first-mover advantage, distorting the marketplace.

Peace was subsequently brokered in talks between Culture Secretary Maria Miller, Ofcom and operators at the beginning of October 2012 on the basis of proposals to accelerate the roll-out of 4G services following the auction process. Given that mobile broadband usage continues to increase rapidly (according to Ofcom's 2012 Communications Market Report, four in ten adults in the UK now own a smartphone, with 42% of these saying their smartphone is the most important device for accessing the internet), 4G services can't come soon enough.

Coverage and comment on today's announcement from ISP Review and the BBC.