NI broadband and mobile coverage on the rise but rural areas still trail

Services in the province continue to improve but rural areas typically suffer from the poorest performance
Services in the province continue to improve but rural areas typically suffer from the poorest performance

The number of homes and businesses in Northern Ireland unable to get a decent broadband connection has fallen by 15,000 over the last year, Ofcom has found, but some 40,000 premises still cannot get a good connection.

The findings are part of Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2018 report – an in-depth look at communications networks in the UK and its nations.

This year’s report continues to show progress on the availability of broadband and mobile services, but notes that around 40,000 homes and offices, or 5% of properties in the province, still cannot get the broadband speeds needed to meet a typical household’s needs.

Most of these are in rural areas and although the figure has fallen from 55,000 last year,

Around 17% of rural premises here, around 37,000 homes and businesses, are not getting decent broadband services, compared to less than 1% in urban areas.

One-in-five premises (19%) in the Fermanagh and Omagh Council area can’t get a service delivering more than 10Mbit/s. Mid Ulster (11%) and Newry, Mourne and Down (8%) also have significant numbers of premises that fall into this category.

The broadband Universal Service Obligation, due to be introduced in 2020 and which will give consumers and businesses the right to request a decent broadband connection, will help those with the slowest connections the report adds.

Alongside this, operators and government are involved in several Northern Ireland-specific projects that will improve the region’s broadband infrastructure.

Superfast broadband – defined by Ofcom as a download speed of 30Mbit/s or more – was available to 89% of Northern Ireland homes and businesses by September 2018, up from 86% a year earlier (UK-wide availability is 94%). However, availability is lower in rural areas where only 67% of premises have access to a superfast service.

“Fast, reliable internet access, wherever you live and work, is essential,” said Jonathan Rose, Ofcom Northern Ireland director.

“This report underlines the good work taking place to increase the availability of faster broadband services in Northern Ireland.

“However, there are still significant numbers of properties in rural areas that don’t have access to decent broadband.

“It’s therefore vital there is further action to ensure people in these areas aren’t left behind.”

This year;s report shows that 80% of SMEs now have access to superfast broadband or faster – up from 75% in 2017.

Meanwhile, coverage of ‘ultrafast’ broadband in Northern Ireland, which Ofcom defines as speeds of 300Mbit/s and above, has risen to 38% of properties, from 25% last year.

There has also been a significant increase in the number of premises passed by full-fibre networks. Such services are capable of delivering very high speeds, well in excess of 300Mbit/s.