Figures from Ofcom show that UK mobile data users are now consuming 20 million GB of mobile data per year – that's 20 Petabytes, more than twice as much as last year – and that Wi-Fi hotspots are not picking up the load.
Ofcom added that by by 2030 demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher than today, thanks to increasing uptake of devices specifically designed to consume Internet-delivered content, such as tablet computers.
The statistics were included in Ofcom's Infrastructure Report Update, along with a UK map of public wireless hotspot density. Ofcom noted though that consumers seem to prefer using their mobile network for Internet access, rather than public Wi-Fi: around 25 times as much data is downloaded over mobile networks as over Wi-Fi hotspots.
Ofcom claimed that the report backed up its plans for the release of more spectrum to support 5G mobile services, for instance. It wants to draw on the 700MHz band, which is currently used for digital terrestrial television and which it claims could be released without the need for another costly and annoying TV switchover.
“Within the coming months we will hold the UK’s largest-ever auction of mobile spectrum for 4G. However, that may not be enough to meet consumers’ future data demands, which is why we are already making significant efforts to prepare to go beyond 4G,” said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.
He added: “Our plans are designed to avoid a ‘capacity crunch’, ensuring that the UK’s mobile infrastructure can continue to support the inescapable growth in consumer demand and economic growth more generally.”
However, the editor of broadband information website Thinkbroadband.com, Andrew Ferguson, was more sceptical. “The figure of 20 million GB per year is quoted, but when you consider that for fixed-line broadband the similar figure is 4,345 million GB [4.3 Exabytes] you can see that mobile is currently still well behind the curve compared to fixed line broadband,” he said.
“While we believe that mobile broadband usage will increase, the biggest barrier to this is the usage allowances and cost of excess data on mobile tariffs. Only if these drastically change will we see mobile broadband usage ever approach that of fixed line broadband.” He added that approaching saturation of the smartphone and tablet market would also lead to slower data growth.
Other highlights from the Ofcom report include:
- The average speed of a fixed-line Internet connection in the UK has risen by 69 per cent in just a year, from 7.5Mbit/s to 12.7Mbit/s.
- Superfast broadband is now available to almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of premises, but only 7 per cent have taken the service up.
- The average residential fixed broadband customer downloaded 23GB per month in 2012, a 35 per cent increase from 2011.
- The average mobile customer used 245MB a month, twice as much as in the year before.
- Half of all data transmitted in the UK is consumed by a ‘hungry hardcore’ of surfers, who account for just 10 per cent of Internet users. Customers with slower connections use considerably less data.
- Northern Ireland is leading the way in superfast broadband, achieving higher take-up (11.4 per cent) and coverage (95 per cent) than any other part of the UK.
Ofcom's Infrastructure Report Update