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Ofcom spins out Wi-Fi checker app just in time for Christmas

*Insert snark here about fairy lights and microwaved turkey dinners*

By Kelly Fiveash, 1 Dec 2015

The UK's communications watchdog has released a Wi-Fi checker app to help broadband customers with wireless set-up in their homes and offices.

According to Ofcom, there are plenty of chumps out there who plonk their kit way too close to electronic devices, such as lamps and baby monitors.

The regulator was keen to keep its advice seasonal, too, by reminding Brits that fairy lights can also interfere with Wi-Fi gear.

It said that up to six million premises in Blighty may be blighted by poorly placed equipment.

Ofcom said its Wi-Fi checker app – developed by SamKnows – is available on most smartphones and tablets and can be accessed via Apple's App Store and Google Play.

The watchdog also flagged up a number of other findings on Tuesday.

It said that around 7.5 million (27 per cent) homes in the UK now have broadband connections with download speeds of at least 30 Mbps – a 1.5 million increase on 2014's figures.

Bumpkins are still struggling, however. Broadband in rural areas has now reached 37 per cent of premises across the UK, with 1.1 million (almost four in ten) having decent connection speeds.

The regulator said:

Ofcom has identified challenges in improving coverage across the UK. Around 8 per cent of UK homes – around 2.4 million – are currently unable to receive broadband speeds of 10 Mbit/s or above.

This jumps to around half (48 per cent, or 1.5 million) in rural areas, where speeds are often affected by premises lying further from the network’s local street cabinet or local telephone exchange.

Roughly half of small businesses in the UK are also hit by a lag in broadband connections. Around 130,000 SMEs are languishing on download speeds of below 10Mbit/s, according to Ofcom.

The picture, however, will apparently remain bleak for some 18 per cent of SMEs by 2017 – even though, by then, 95 per cent of UK premises are expected to have access to faster broadband speeds.

"Ofcom is working closely with the government and industry to meet these challenges and improve coverage for all internet users," it said.

Prime Minister David Cameron recently made a noise about bringing in a legally-binding Universal Service Obligation by the end of the current Parliament in 2020.

On Monday, Virgin Media challenged the PM's promise. The cable company said in a written evidence submission to the media, culture and sport committee that it was "sceptical of the case for a USO". It added:

Virgin Media takes an optimistic view of the capacity of the market to deliver universal coverage. Through a combination of satellite and mobile, there is already universal availability of broadband speeds at an affordable price.

Evidence demonstrates that the broadband applications that are critical to ending digital exclusion and which produce material externalities can be delivered well within the capacity of existing networks, at speeds of 3Mbps.

The applications that absorb more bandwidth and data – such as 4k streaming – are private activities for which there is questionable public benefit.

Virgin Media's chief was expected to be grilled by MPs on the CMS panel on Tuesday morning. However, he was a no-show.

Ofcom's Connected Nations report, which can be viewed here, added that four in 10 premises in the UK (46 per cent) have 4G coverage from the country's four biggest mobile operators EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three.

The regulator noted that more work needed to be done on coverage and quality of service.

"Mobile and broadband have become the fourth essential service, alongside gas, electricity and water. There’s been a technological revolution over recent years, with 4G mobile and superfast continuing to extend across the country," said Ofcom boss Sharon White.

She added: “Our challenge is to keep supporting competition and innovation, while also helping to improve coverage across the country – particularly in hard-to-reach areas, where mobile and home internet services need to improve." ®

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