Ofcom launches Wi-Fi checker to improve broadband in Wales

01 December 2015

  • Simple app for tablets and mobiles to check your Wi-Fi connection
  • More than a quarter of a million homes and offices across Wales could improve their wireless connection
  • Significant increases in next generation access and superfast broadband - the highest availability of superfast broadband services in the devolved nations
  • Superfast broadband coverage in rural Wales up from 8% to 31% of premises

People can check whether their in-home Wi-Fi is giving them the best service by using a simple, powerful app launched by Ofcom today.

Iphone5-with-screenshotThe Ofcom Wi-Fi Checker, which runs on smartphones and tablets, allows consumers and businesses to discover the quality of their wireless internet signal wherever they live or work - as well as offering practical steps to help people get the best from their connection.

Wireless broadband may not be working as well as it could in more than a quarter of a million homes and offices across Wales and in more than five million UK homes, according to Ofcom research published today. This is often caused by the Wi-Fi set-up in the house slowing down broadband.

It could be down to something as simple as interference from other electronic devices, such as a microwave oven, baby monitor, a lamp - or even Christmas fairy lights.

The app tests the Wi-Fi set-up and, if its finds a problem, will provide some troubleshooting tips to help improve broadband. It is free to download now from Apple’s App Store and Google Play (search for ‘Wi-Fi Checker’).

A better-connected UK

The new app is being launched alongside Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2015 report - the most authoritative, in-depth look at the telecoms and wireless networks of the UK and its nations.

This year’s report shows good progress in the roll-out and take-up of services that have become a crucial part of people’s personal and working lives. However, the report recognises there is still more to do; particularly in improving broadband and mobile availability and quality of service for consumers and businesses across the UK.

Today for the first time, Ofcom is publishing individual reports for each of the constituent nations of the UK, where availability of communications services varies and where devolved administrations play a leading role in public interventions.

Broadband availability leaps ahead in Wales

Wales has seen dramatic increases in coverage of next generation access and superfast broadband with the highest availability of superfast broadband (SFBB) services in the devolved nations.

Seventy nine per cent of premises in Wales are now capable of receiving superfast services at speeds of 30Mbit/s (up from 55% in 2014).  This compares to 77% in Northern Ireland, 73% in Scotland and 83% for the UK as a whole. The increase has benefitted Welsh rural areas in particular, with coverage rising from 8% in 2014 to 31% of premises in 2015.

The increase has largely been driven by the Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru programme reaching out to all parts of Wales.

Wales has also seen a substantial year-on-year percentage increase in average download speeds. Speeds increased by 5 Mbit/s to an average headline speeds of 23 Mbit/s, a 28% increase. Average upload speeds in Wales are 3.1 Mbit/s, compared to a UK average of 3.5 Mbit/s.

Today’s Wales Connected Nation report highlights that households in the nations with access to superfast services have not taken up superfast packages as readily as the rest of the UK.

Welsh homes also use less data than the UK average. The average amount of data used each month in Wales is 77.7GB. This is short of the UK average 82.3GB per month and earlier Ofcom analysis suggests that lower speeds can affect how people use networks.

Around one in three Welsh homes that can access superfast broadband has taken it up. Twenty four per cent of premises in areas where superfast services are available (79%) have taken up the service.

Broadband speeds in rural areas

Rural areas have the greater number of lines currently incapable of supporting speeds of above 10 Mbps. In Wales, 19% of premises in urban areas and 40% of premises in rural areas cannot currently achieve speeds greater than or equal to 10Mbps. The number of premises that cannot get 10 Mbps in rural areas is more than double that of urban areas.

The difference between broadband speeds that are available in urban and rural areas has remained unchanged; however, the gap will ultimately increase as urban areas progress towards ultrafast speeds.

Swansea is being used as a test bed for BT ultrafast technology, called G.fast, which can provide speeds of up to 500Mbps and is based on the superfast technology being deployed across Wales.

The challenges of mobile in Wales

The rural and sensitive landscape in Wales, with its mountains and valleys coupled with areas of low population density, pose particular technical challenges for the provision of mobile signals. The Connected Nations report shows there is more work to be done on mobile coverage and quality of service in Wales.

The availability of 2G voice services has remained broadly static over the past year at 90%, with modest increases in the availability of 3G voice and data, from 65% in 2014 to 67% in 2015. This is expected to increase following an agreement between the UK Government and all major operators for them to achieve 90% geographic coverage of 2G services by 2017. The agreement does not specify individual nations targets. However, Ofcom estimates that geographic 2G/ 3G coverage in Wales (from all four operators) will be 83%.

This figure currently stands at 67.25%, compared to the UK average of 74.8%. Separately, Ofcom is preparing to award more spectrum next year which could be used by mobile operators to improve capacity.

There remain areas in Wales with no mobile coverage from all four of the network operators as well as complete not-spots where there is no coverage at all.

In geographic terms, Wales has more voice not spots (15%) than the UK (13%). A similar pattern is seen with data coverage. Wales has about the same level of data not-spots as the UK overall, with 21% of the landmass not covered by a data service from any operator.

Mobile coverage checker

Ofcom has today enhanced its Mobile Coverage Checker to include new features for people to discover the quality of their mobile service. This lets users zoom to a specific location in the UK map, or simply enter a place name or postcode, to receive data on coverage for each mobile network - down to 100 square metres.

The site allows consumers to provide feedback in order to make improvements to the maps so that they reflect consumers’ experience across the UK as accurately as possible.

4G in the most populated towns and cities

The roll-out of 4G mobile broadband services has been good in highly populated areas and 77% of premises across the UK can now receive a 4G signal from at least one network.

Ofcom expects this to increase significantly in the coming year, and has put in place rules to ensure that 98% of premises can receive a 4G signal indoors by 2017. In addition, O2 hold the coverage obligation for data on the 4G network to cover 95% of each of the nations by the end of 2017, this obligation applies only to premises coverage rather than geographically. 

Rhodri Williams, Ofcom’s Director in Wales said: “Today’s findings are encouraging, but there is more to be done to ensure improved communications services for consumers in Wales.”

“Consumers’ expectations are higher today than a few years ago. People want to use their mobile devices effectively wherever they are - at home, at work and on the move. The challenge for Ofcom is to continue to support competition and innovation, while helping to improve coverage across Wales, especially in the most rural areas.”

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

  1. Under section 134A of the Communications Act 2003 (‘the Act’) Ofcom is required to submit a report to the Secretary of State every three years, describing the state of the electronic communications networks and services in the UK.
  2. Full reports were published in 2011 and 2014 and this year we are publishing an update - The Connected Nations Report - focussing on those areas seeing the most rapid change, including the coverage of fixed, mobile and broadcast networks and the capacity of fixed and mobile broadband networks.
  3. For the first time, we are publishing individual reports for each of the constituent nations of the UK where availability of communications services varies and where devolved administrations play a leading role in public interventions.
  4.