Friday, April 28, 2006

Welsh digital TV take-up outweighs broadband

By Marjorie Delwarde | 28 Apr 2006

Wales has the highest digital TV uptake in the UK but still lags behind in terms of broadband and mobile phones uptake, reveals the Communications Market Report for the Nations and Regions of the UK published by the communications regulatory body, Ofcom.

The report, which examines the availability, take-up and usage of mobiles phones, radio, digital TV and broadband-internet services, compares findings across Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and nine English regions.

Findings show that Wales has the highest uptake of digital TV (72 per cent as opposed to 65 per cent for the UK as a whole), mainly driven by the high take-up of satellite in the region.

However, according to Ofcom's finding, Wales is doing less well when it comes to other communication services. Due to its particular geography, Wales has lower availability of DAB digital radio as well as lower coverage and take-up of 2G and 3G mobiles than in the rest of the UK. 3G is being rolled out primarily in urban rather than rural areas.

The same goes for broadband. Despite good basic broadband availability, take-up remains lower than the rest of UK. 54 per cent of internet households in Wales have broadband as opposed to the UK average of 63 per cent.

Possible reasons might be that even though BT has enabled most of its exchanges, many premises are too distant from the exchange or are not suitable for delivery of broadband services. Poor quality of the networks was another issue raised in the report.

John Wilson, member and consultant of the Wales Broadband Stakeholder Group, points out that statistics can be misleading and challenges the data mined by Ofcom and their degree of meaningfulness. In the past, another market research house has come under criticism for surveying only a fraction of Wales in its broadband uptake research.

Meleri Thomas, external relations executive at Ofcom Wales, says: “We try to provide a snapshot for each region. The sample in Wales was smaller than the other regions but [...] I don’t think a bigger sample would have dramatically changed the present results. We kept a balance between rural and urban. We surveyed all parts of Wales, not only the South East of Wales.”

Wilson notes: “Issues of coverage like far distance from exchanges apply to any other region in the UK. The broadband agenda in Wales remains pretty much the same. The last mile or first mile agenda will always apply to Wales, because it is a dispersed remote and rural region. However, within a UK wide context, the Welsh government has been proactive in addressing the next generation agenda and defining broadband. The [Ofcom Digital Dividend Review] (DDR) may provide some solutions for Wales."

The DDR project will examine the opportunities arising from the release of spectrum following the switchover from analogue to digital.

Other findings from the Ofcom report show that 83 per cent of SMEs in Wales have or are in the process of gaining access to the internet and 47 per cent own or rent mobile phones.

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