Over the past few months there have been numerous calls for Ofcom to investigate the UK’s telecommunications industry as many have claimed that certain companies such as BT are monopolising the market and failing to provide their customers promised connection speeds. However, much to many people’s surprise the industry regulator has claimed that competition in the market is healthy, and that fixed broadband connections are now "almost universally available" throughout the UK.
However, even though Ofcom claim that broadband is now available to most homes and businesses it did admit that 3% of premises in the UK do not have a basic broadband speed of 2Mbps, while 15% can’t receive speeds of 10Mbps – the industry standard. Andrew Ferguson, editor of Think Broadband, said: "Things are improving, but there is still a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots. About three to four million households still don't have access to superfast broadband, while others don't realise it is available in their area."
Ofcom’s investigation also showed that even in areas where high-speed broadband is now available many businesses and homes are still not taking it up, claiming that 30Mbps broadband is now available to 75% of premises in the UK however only 21% have signed up to it. It went on to add that SMEs are losing out the most from slow broadband speeds as they do not have the ability to use new technology such as video conferencing or voice-over-broadband.
In order to remedy the issue of rural broadband Ofcom has stated that in the future companies may have to focus more heavily on mobile technology including voice-over-broadband services. Ed Richards, Ofcom CEO, said: “Digital infrastructure is crucial to the UK’s future. As a country we are continuing to make real progress, particularly in the roll out and take-up of superfast broadband and 4G mobile services, but there is more to be done. We need to continue asking whether collectively we are doing enough to build the infrastructure of the future, and to maintain the competition that benefits consumers and businesses.”
“The way consumers interact with their TV, phone and broadband is changing as fast as technology is evolving. Our challenge is to keep supporting competition and innovation, while also helping to improve coverage across the country – particularly in hard-to-reach areas where mobile and home internet services need to improve.”
However, some of the government’s proposals to solve the digital divide have not proved popular with industry players, especially their plan to create a ‘national roaming’ network which would enable consumers to utilise providers other than their own in areas with poor signal. Discussing the issue, an EE spokesperson said: “EE’s consultation response reflects our longstanding view that while we support the ambition to improve rural coverage, the Government‘s proposal for National Roaming is a flawed concept.
“Instead, together with the other major UK network operators, we will propose a solution that helps solve the problem of rural coverage, without any of the technical, economic and competitive barriers of National Roaming.”
EE claim that the government’s plan is flawed due to the fact that it will only benefit those using voice calls and not data, thus failing to solve the digital divide. Meanwhile, the GSMA, which represents the UK mobile industry, said: “The GSMA believes there are alternative solutions for tackling the issue of partial not-spots in the UK outside of mandated national roaming, which is technically complex, expensive and would impede law enforcement activities. Most importantly, as such a scheme is likely to result in issues making, receiving and maintaining calls, we need to look at other ways of ensuring that the consumer experience is continually enhanced.”
Even though Ofcom is trying to find new ways to solve the digital divide, without the support and innovation of some of the biggest players in the industry it is unlikely that they will come to a solution that is not only plausible but is also supported by all involved. At Fluidata we understand the issues that have to be overcome in order to set up a network that combines ISPs such as our Service Exchange Platform (SEP), however as we have shown it can be both possible and extremely beneficial to all involved.
Sam Coleman, Business Sales Manager, said: “There have been numerous calls for Ofcom to look at competition in the UK for broadband access and high speed Internet. It is no secret that BT almost wholly owns the infrastructure that a lot of carriers depend upon to deliver their own, and sometimes superior, variations of broadband and high speed Internet.
“My view on this is that we are hindered by our old copper network and technologies that span vast areas of the UK. The investment required to upgrade a copper network to technologies such as fibre is more than we can fathom, but with that said what we are beginning to see more and more within the industry are smaller independent carriers coming up with brilliant new ideas that will shape the future of the UK’s Internet related infrastructure.
“Carriers are building their own networks and digging their own ducting, creating their own PoP’s all around the UK. Metro fibre networks are popping up everywhere and frankly it’s exciting seeing so many innovative ideas where carriers are laying fibre using old CCTV ducting or sewage networks; some extremely innovative ways of delivering superfast broadband.
“I disagree that it is a monopolised market; saturated yes but monopolised no. There is a lot of business to be had and won out there and this fact is made true every day. It’s a vast industry and with so much technology available it’s almost a different market altogether than that of BT and their copper networks, PSTN networks etc. Connectivity is a broad piece and can be delivered in so many different ways that there are already a lot of options available to customers, they just don’t necessarily know who to ask or what’s out there at their fingertips.”