Wales has UK's lowest superfast broadband rate

A computer
Image caption Superfast broadband should reach 96% coverage by 2016, the Welsh government hopes

Wales has the lowest proportion of premises in the UK with access to superfast broadband, a report says.

In its annual Communications Market Report: Wales, regulator Ofcom says 48% of premises in Wales have access, compared to a 73% UK average.

Wales has the second lowest proportion of premises with outdoor coverage from all three 2G mobile networks, it says.

However, nearly a quarter of Wales' homes use only a mobile phone (23%), compared to a UK average of 15%.

In its report, Ofcom says 73% of UK premises were in postcodes served by next-generation access (NGA) networks, which are used to provide superfast broadband services.

'Playing catch-up'

It adds: "Across the UK nations this proportion was lowest in Wales at 48% and highest in Northern Ireland at 95%". The figure in Scotland stands at 52%, and 76% in England.

Despite Wales' comparatively low figure, the report said: "Wales had the largest increase in the proportion of premises in postcodes served by NGA networks in the year to June 2013, an 11 percentage point increase compared to the 37% recorded in June 2012."

Rhodri Williams, Ofcom's director for Wales, said he believed things were going to improve.

He said: "This report is obviously backward-looking and there's no doubt at all that in availability of superfast broadband, and certainly 3G mobile telephones, Wales has been playing catch-up - especially in the more rural, sparsely-populated parts of Wales which have been under-served.

"But, probably for the first time ever, we're now in a position to say steps are being taken to remedy that."

Mr Williams said the Welsh government's Superfast Cymru scheme aimed to ensure 96% population coverage by 2016.

He said the UK average for superfast broadband was much higher than in Wales because it has a higher proportion of rural and semi-urban dwellings, which are more expensive to supply.

He added that Northern Ireland's proportion was so high because large amounts of public money had been spent improving the network.

Hilly terrain

Mr Williams also said large parts of rural Wales were at the "front of the queue" of a scheme announced by the UK government on Tuesday to improve mobile phone coverage.

Referring to 2G phone networks - considered satisfactory for phone calls and text messages - the report says: "Wales had the second lowest proportion of premises with outdoor coverage from all three 2G networks in June 2013, at 87.0%, while 1.2% of premises in Wales (around 20,000 premises) were in areas without 2G coverage.

"The lower-than-average network coverage in Wales is a reflection of its hilly terrain, which restricts the propagation of mobile signals."

Overall, it says 98.8% of premises in Wales "were in areas with outdoor 2G coverage in June 2013".

On 3G networks - those relied upon for mobile internet - the report says: "Wales had the second-highest proportion of premises in areas with outdoor 3G coverage from at least one MNO [mobile network operator] in June 2013, at 97.7%, 1.4 percentage points lower than the UK average".

It adds that Wales "also had the lowest proportion of premises with similar coverage from all four 3G networks, at 56.9%".

Mr Williams said: "Wales remains at the forefront when it comes to mobile-only homes and it is encouraging to see rural Wales leading the way in smartphone ownership, a trend set to continue with the imminent rollout of 4G services across the UK."

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