/ Technology

Broadband and mobile coverage in the UK – are you satisfied?

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has just released its first report describing the state of the UK’s communications coverage. So how’s the country’s broadband and mobile coverage doing for the nation, and you?

The telecoms landscape has changed beyond recognition over the last 10 years. Believe it or not, just 36% of the UK population had an internet connection back in 2001. It’s something that seems hard to fathom now that most homes have broadband access.

And so we come to 2011, with Ofcom mapping the state of communication networks and services in the UK. It’s nice to see that we’ve come a long way, but that doesn’t mean we should sit back and relax – where do we need to go from here?

Communication for the nation

It’s strangely comforting to find that despite the increase in popularity of mobiles, the majority of UK households – a massive 23.7 million households – still have a landline.

And though many like to argue that our landline phones are permanently hung up (and only used to connect us to broadband), we’re still using them. There were an average of 72 calls made over each landline in March 2011 alone, and we nattered away for a total of five hours, making each call an average of four minutes long.

Mobile phone penetration is also high, with 93% of adults using one. In fact, there are 76.4 million active mobiles. That’s higher than the UK population, showing that many have more than one handset.

Interestingly, average call durations for mobiles are shorter than landlines, at just 1 minute and 13 seconds. Is it no longer good to talk? I guess the kind of calls you make while out and about aren’t likely to be the deep and meaningful ones, but if the number of mobile-only households increases in the future (currently 15%) will we miss out on some serious chats?

As for broadband, the 18 million of us with a home connection now use an average of 17 gigabytes of data a month. That’s the equivalent of streaming 12 hours of BBC iPlayer HD video. Plus, according to the London Internet Exchange, average UK internet traffic is now seven times greater than it was five years ago. It’s mind boggling really.

Room for improvement

Ofcom’s next report is in three years – can you imagine what these numbers might look like in 2014? And although the improving broadband and mobile landscape is exciting, I still have a number of concerns.

Firstly, with usage rising at a fairly rapid rate we’ll need to move fast in order to cope with demand. Secondly, not everyone is benefiting from the same level of service.

Of course, the industry is aware of these issues. The rollout of superfast broadband and a 4G mobile network will need to be pushed with urgency if we are to keep up with increased demand. And as for rural households missing out on even basic broadband connections, we’ll have to try harder to eliminate so-called ‘not-spots’.

Do you think communications in the UK have changed for the better in the past 10 years? Or perhaps you’re not impressed with the broadband and mobile coverage in your area? If so, what do you want to see addressed with urgency before Ofcom’s next report?


Although I am not a frequent mobile user I have PAYG phones on different networks to help ensure that I have a working phone when I am away from home. I look forward to mobile networks getting together to improve coverage for everyone. That would be a great help with mobile broadband because there is no cheap way of switching between networks.

Siusaidh says:
8 November 2011

In the west of Scotland, broadband outside the areas (approx 9 miles) close to and served by BT telephone exchanges can only be accessed by satellite broadband. Satellite broadband provides a basic service, is mostly slow and is very expensive, costing about 3 times more per month than telephone-line broadband access.

Mobile phone reception is also patchy in the west of Scotland. I cannot get voice use of my mobile in my home area, and am only able to text by setting the phone on one house windowsill. This is not uncommon.

For both broadband and mobile coverage, the villages are reasonably well served, but the country areas very much less so. Most people living in rural areas are either running businesses/farms from home or are working/volunteering for community organisations; but service providers seem to take the view that ‘nobody is there’ or ‘nobody is doing anything’ out in the country!!!

Sophie Gilbert says:
9 November 2011

My mobile doesn’t work in the Highlands and Islands, so no, I’m not happy with coverage.

Right on the broadband front i currently can only get 10mb bb where as a mile up the road you can get virgins 50mb bb bt have not enabled alot in my area so if its not bt forget it and as far as mobiles go im on orange my signal is patchy and we dont get 3g mobile internet let alone 4g

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Karsam says:
24 November 2011

I live in rural N. Ireland and the mobile network reception is poor, I can’t even get a decent 2G service! I think the major mobile network providers should make sure there is a decent 2G and 3G reception in all areas of the UK before they start thinking of 4G. For the internet we had to get BT Infinity installed as our previous internet provider was hopeless. So please, please ‘Which’ campaign for decent coverage in all rural areas of the UK, and remember N. Ireland is part of the UK.

i live in rural wales and get no signal without going outside and climbing a tree.

on holiday at sidmouth east devon O2 2G signal is very poor .

in big cities there is always a 3G signal.

surely people in the cities need the same service if they are away?

i also agree with a previous comment re providers getting together.

rather than having probably duplicate masts everywhere perhaps we should have a “national grid” perhaps run jointly.

re coverage the MINIMUM requirement is 2G EVERYWHERE.

GillyGloucs says:
22 February 2012

We live in rural Gloucestershire (where even with Freeview we still can only access a few of the availabel channels because of a poor signal). I couldn’t even sign up to Which? recommended broadband suppliers because they said they couldn’t currently serve the area – we found a supplier but the service is patchy. So I’d like to get a reliable service first, and then we can look the issue of speed!

Ian says:
3 March 2012

The improvement of mobile and fixed line broadband really only applies to urban areas. Unless ISPs are required as a condition of license to improve services to rural areas there is clearly no incentive for them to do so. Rural populations are disadvantaged in so many areas of public service and the provision of broadband connection is no exception. The service here, about 20 miles from the A1, is about the same quality, speed and capacity as we had living in a city ten years ago. Any change can not be led by commercial ISPs as there is no commercial advantage to do so. Only by government intervention will we see improvement. I will not hold my breath !