"Mobile operators are currently deploying the Fourth Generation (4G) of mobile technology, bringing a truly mobile broadband experience to UK consumers."

Mobile in the UK: 10 key facts

1. Customers served

At the end of December 2015, there were 85.3 million mobile customers in the UK (79.7m active mobile handsets and 5.6m active mobile broadband connections). [1] 95% of the adult population have a mobile phone, making 137 active connections per head of population.

2. The internet of things

In addition to people, 6.3 million ‘things’ are now connected to mobile networks (i.e. they contain a SIM card), making a total of 91.6m mobile connections in the UK. Common applications for ‘machine to machine’ (M2M) connections are energy meters, vending machines and burglar alarms.

The number of connections is expected to rise rapidly as smart meters are rolled out and M2M is used for applications such as the connected car, livestock tracking and environmental monitoring.

3. 4G technology

Mobile operators are currently deploying the Fourth Generation (4G) of mobile technology, bringing a truly mobile broadband experience to UK consumers.

4. Annual investment

Every year, mobile operators invest £2-3 billion in new network infrastructure, accounting for approximately 5% of all investment in plant and machinery in the UK. Investment goes towards new capabilities, more capacity and greater geographic coverage.

5. Total coverage

According to Ofcom [2], 93% of indoor premises in the UK have access to 2G/3G voice coverage, with 46% also benefiting from 4G data. Total outdoor 2G/3G voice coverage spans around 75% of the entire UK landmass.

In 2014, all UK operators committed to extending coverage to 90% of the UK landmass by 2017. Data coverage is also being rolled out, with a £5 billion investment programme substantially extending mobile connectivity over the next two years.

6. Speed capability

The mobile broadband speeds enabled by 4G have markedly increased utility and convenience. In just over 10 years, data speeds have increased by 1,000 times compared to 2G. Average download speeds are now 14.7 megabits per second, with upload speeds averaging 13.6 megabits per second. [3]

7. Demand for data

The increase in coverage, capability and capacity of mobile networks has led to an explosion in demand for mobile data. Between 2011 and 2015, mobile data traffic grew from 9 million gigabytes per month to 73 million. [4] That’s almost 1 gigabyte per active connection.

8. Economic value

The consumer surplus derived from mobile networks is estimated £24 billion per annum. [5] Mobile communications supports a supply chain of infrastructure, equipment, applications and content providers that accounts for 75,000 jobs.

9. Social value

The social impact of mobile connectivity is wide and varied. Mobile users make 15 million calls to the emergency services every year, while other social impacts include:

  • Access to government services such as employment, benefits and housing;
  • Social inclusion (16% of people use a mobile device as their only route to the internet);
  • Preventative healthcare through e-health applications;
  • Access to isolated friends and relations via social media and to new connections via dating apps;
  • Access to banking facilities such as migrant worker remittances.

10. Business value

In 2015, the annual value of UK mobile ad-spend was £2.6 billion – about 30% of all digital ad-spend. This represents an enormous growth (the total was just £19 million in 2008) and reflects the huge increase in the quantity and value of mobile data use and conversion rates in that time.

For example, of Facebook’s 1.7 billion active users, 1.4 billion now access the service on a mobile device, and 80% of ad revenue is now derived from the mobile platform. Mobile is the key platform on which innovative business models will be built, and where productivity gains will be realised and new opportunities uncovered.

1. Ofcom, communications market updateQ4 2015
2. Ofcom, Connected Nations report, 2015
3. Ofcom, Measuring mobile broadband performance in the UK
4. Ofcom, Connected Nations report, 2015
5. Analysys Mason, 2013