News

No Deal Brexit opens the door to roaming rates return

The Government yesterday laid out its proposals for the future of mobile roaming in Europe should the UK leave the EU without a deal in place. As previously set out in the technical notice published in September 2018, should an implementation period be agreed, the current rules governing using a mobile phone in Europe will remain in effect until the end of 2020 and thereafter would depend on the terms agreed in the Future Economic Partnership. (more…)

Children and media: usage and attitudes

Ofcom has published a report on the media use, access, attitudes and understanding amongst children aged 3 – 15, and how parents manage this usage. The report revealed that whilst TV sets and tablets were used the most, TV viewing on a TV set is steadily declining, with consuming content becoming a more solitary activity and mobile viewing becoming increasingly popular. The reduction in TV viewing has been replaced for 3-4 year olds by spending an additional hour online, or gaming for 12-15s. (more…)

Network deployment speeds ahead whilst adoption lags

Ofcom yesterday published their annual Connected Nations Report which tracks the progress on deployment and take-up of digital infrastructure and the services provided over them.

The headline stats are that superfast (30Mbit/s) fixed connectivity is up 3 points to 94% of homes and businesses from last year, with 4G coverage from at least one operator up to 91% of the UK’s landmass. This is steady rather than spectacular progress, as you would expect at this stage of the network deployments. Full Fibre connections, a key focus for Government policy following the FTIR, now stands at 6% of premises.

Around 2% of UK premises still cannot currently access broadband services offering a 10 Mbit/s download – the threshold below which the Universal Service Obligation (USO) would kick in. This has halved in the last year and Ofcom will be hoping to see continued progress in 2019 in order to reduce the target area for the broadband USO which will come into effect next year. (more…)

New BSG Report: Preparing for the UK’s all-IP future

  • The UK is moving to an all-IP (internet based) network for voice services
  • The current analogue system, the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), will come to the end of its life in the mid-2020s with transition also needed to prepare for our full-fibre future
  • As well as providing voice services, many other applications, such as social care and security alarms, use the PSTN
  • The report provides lessons from four international case studies which are further along their migration path, giving evidence on how the UK can prepare for a successful and seamless migration from the PSTN to all-IP networks.

The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) has published a report on “Preparing the UK for an All-IP future: experiences from other countries”. It outlines the lessons the UK can learn from four international case studies as we migrate from the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to all-IP voice services and networks.

The PSTN provides voice and some data services within the UK. It is nearing the end of its life and is increasingly expensive to maintain. A move to all-IP networks lowers costs, brings additional benefits to voice services and helps prepare for the eventual retirement of copper networks – a necessary move as we forge our full-fibre future.

The migration is necessary but raises two particular challenges. The first is the continued provision of voice services, in particular, resilient access to emergency services in the event of a mains power failure which is especially important for the vulnerable and those who are landline-only users. The second is around the data services that use the PSTN. Some of these will not be compatible with an all-IP system as they rely on the analogue capabilities of the old network.

In order to ensure that the UK’s migration is as seamless as possible, the BSG commissioned Plum Consulting to analyse four international case studies. Germany, France, Switzerland and New Zealand were chosen due to the different stages of their migration and their differing regulatory structures.

Guidance on how to communicate and protect vulnerable consumers who may be particularly dependent on voice services is a key feature of the report. As the migration will be led by individual communication providers, it is essential that the industry effectively coordinates its messages to both consumers and providers of services that are dependent or reliant on the PSTN. Other insights focused on the benefits of minimising the forced migration of users away from the PSTN as well as the potential technical challenge posed by the UK’s approach to number portability.

Richard Hooper, chair of the BSG, said: The UK is well placed to manage a successful migration from the PSTN to all-IP networks. Industry is already taking measures such as providing test facilities to companies that provide data services. However, this report makes clear that we need to continue to strengthen this work to avoid the pitfalls other countries have made and protect vulnerable consumers. It is particularly urgent that industry works together with Ofcom and ensures that the messaging to consumers from communication providers is consistent.”

Read the full report here.

Broadband universal service providers named by Ofcom

Ofcom has set out its thinking for which providers should be delivering the Government’s Universal Service Order to allow for decent broadband connections across the UK. This consultation follows on from a summer request for interested providers to put themselves forward. As a result, Ofcom proposes to designate BT as the Universal Service Provider for the whole of the UK bar Hull which will be served by KCOM.
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Ofcom sets out its thinking for 2019

Ofcom this week published its Proposed Annual Plan 2019/ 20 Making Communications work for everyone. The final plan will be published in March 2019 following consultation which will run until February 8th.

Priorities will be focused around ensuring universal availability for both broadband and mobile coverage; looking to strengthen public service broadcasting; protecting consumers against unfair pricing; and investigating the scope for regulation of harmful online content.

2019 will see Ofcom designate broadband Universal Service Providers and set out the conditions that will apply to them in accordance with the legislation laid earlier this year providing for access to high speed broadband being a legal right.  Focus will also be on improving mobile coverage both indoors and rurally, and the measuring and reporting to consumers. (more…)

Government publish no-deal legislation for telecoms

The Government last week published the Statutory Instrument (SI) covering the telecoms regulatory framework under the EU Withdrawal Act.

The affirmative SI will need to be actively approved by both Houses of Parliament and is largely technical in nature – correcting references or processes in legislation (eg Communications Act 2003) that were established to ensure a harmonized application of regulation across the EU. Naturally, as the UK will no longer be in the EU these are being removed.

However, there are some amendments which are more significant. In particular Government has decided that it does not need to replicate the EU Commission’s oversight role of Ofcom with a new third-party body. In the explanatory notes the Government explains that they understand the Commission’s role to be one of ensuring a standardized application of regulatory approaches across member states. Although most in industry would suggest that such an oversight body (rather than the Commission per se) provides a useful and cost-effective route to providing a challenge to regulatory decisions.

This goes against the recommendations in the BSG’s Brexit paper in which we argued that such a review process allowed for proper scrutinisation of decisions and helped maintain quality decision-making by Ofcom. It was assumed that the Competition and Markets Authority would be a suitable body, but Government has felt that this was unnecessary. Given that industry’s preference is to prevent a cliff-edge exit of the EU it is unlikely that these concerns will turn into full-blown objections but depending on the nature of the UK’s future relationship with the EU it will be interesting to see how thinking on the regulatory framework develops.

In terms of Ofcom’s interaction with BEREC, full membership is restricted to the regulatory authorities of EU member states. Whilst Ofcom would be allowed to be an observer, Government has also made clear that it would be open to Ofcom participating further should this be made possible under the new BEREC Regulation.

Government outlines telecoms investment pipeline

The week the Government set out their analysis of the National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline, including investment in digital infrastructure out to 2020/21 financial year (h/t ISPreview).

The report illustrates the level of public and private sector investment into the UK’s key infrastructure sectors, extending out 30 years in some sectors. For Digital Communications it sets out investment for the next three years which aligns with current Government funding programmes and given that most companies have not made public commitments beyond then.

An appendix to the report contains further details of individual company’s commitments – such as Virgin Media’s Project Lightning – through to Government projects for clearing the 700MHz spectrum band.

It will be interesting to keep an eye on these funding commitments next year as the need for Government investment increases in order to deliver the outside in approach for full fibre investment outlined in the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review. 

Autumn Budget 2018: Austerity moves aside as discipline takes over

Today’s Autumn Budget announcement yielded few surprises for the telecoms sector. Chancellor Philip Hammond, in what should be the UK’s last budget as part of the EU bloc, revealed that £200 million had been earmarked for programs to drive out fibre networks rurally across the UK (starting with the Borderlands, Cornwall and the Welsh Valleys), in line with the Government’s ambition to see nationwide coverage of full fibre by 2033, with 5G by 2027.

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Goals for a Gigabit Europe

A WIK conference held last week in Brussels sought to examine the likely impact of the recently agreed EU Electronic Communications Code especially as regards the EU’s goal to be a Gigabit society with greater fibre deployment, in line with the UK’s ambition to see nationwide full fibre roll out by 2033. The Code once fully adopted will have a two year time frame before the new rules will apply across Europe.

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Regulatory barriers continue to hinder European investment – at the FT ETNO Summit

The mood from The Financial Time-ETNO Summit today in Brussels was one of tentative, if not forced, optimism amongst the background feeling of missed opportunities from the recently agreed European Telecoms Code and the repeated sentiment that Europe is risking its potential for investment from the tech sector with its fragmented regulatory approach and low rates of return on investment.

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Broadband and mobile coverage sees continued improvements

Ofcom today published revised figures on broadband and mobile network coverage across the UK updating the Connected Nations report to include data from May this year. The figures show steady increases in the availability of both fixed and mobile services, with the number of premises unable to get decent broadband now under 3%. The Government’s Universal Service Obligation, the details of which Ofcom is currently finalising, will target these properties. (more…)