The trends reflect wider changes in the UK’s communications infrastructure, which is evolving to meet consumers’ growing demand for data, both at home and on the move.
Ofcom’s annual Infrastructure Report update shows that in June this year 73 per cent of UK premises could receive superfast broadband, up from 65 per cent in 2012. Some 22 per cent of broadband connections are superfast, up from 10 per cent last year. Around 4.8 million UK customers have taken up the technology, up from 2.1 million last year.
In total, 650m gigabytes of data were sent or received by UK internet users over fixed lines in the single month of June – an increase of 26 per cent over the same month last year, and an amount of data equivalent to more than one billion copies of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
The growth in data usage is set to continue, as superfast networks are rolled out further, and consumers demand higher speeds to support high-quality internet TV services and multiple devices on their broadband connection.
As well as indoors, people are increasingly demanding faster connection speeds when out and about. 4G networks are helping to meet this demand. Several operators – EE, O2 and Vodafone – have now launched 4G services, while Three is expected to join them in the coming months.
The report shows that consumers are also making far greater use of public Wi-Fi ‘hotspots’ – which allow them to access fixed-line internet via their mobile devices in places such as restaurants, hotels, banks, supermarkets and coffee shops.
The number of public Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the UK doubled over the year to 34,000 (from 16,000). And the amount of data being sent or received by consumers in these hotspots almost trebled, to almost 2 million gigabytes in a month – up from 0.75 million gigabytes during the same month in 2012.
The rapid growth in superfast broadband, the arrival of 4G mobile and the doubling of public Wi-Fi hotspots are all part of an emerging picture of soaring consumer demand for data-hungry services.
As higher speeds become the norm, Ofcom believes the challenge is to focus on wider coverage for consumers, including those in hard-to-reach areas. Ofcom will also be conducting work aimed at ensuring wider coverage does not come at the expense of service quality.
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Superfast broadband is rolling out fast across the country, and 4G mobile will reach at least 98 per cent of the population. This is really good news but there remain considerable challenges, not least in hard-to-reach areas for mobile and home Internet services. We know consumers increasingly expect superfast speeds, but it’s also important to make sure people can connect over a very wide area. That is why we are doing everything we can to support moves to improve coverage in difficult areas such as roads and train lines.