This is a guest post by Matt Powell who is the editor for BroadBand Genie.
Rural communities have suffered with poor internet access for years, and despite recent attempts at improving matters many areas are still lumbered with dial-up, or very basic ADSL connectivity at best. It’s a frustrating situation but there may be a solution in the form of new 4G mobile networks.
The Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project is the Government’s plan to bring fast internet to everyone in the UK. However its aims are relatively modest: 24Mb minimum for 90% of homes and a universal 2Mb for the entire country.
But between BT’s fibre optic roll-out and Virgin Media’s cable network many homes already have access to services of 40Mb or more, and while 2Mb might be an improvement for those of you still crawling along on dial-up, it’s still not very fast.
Projects like B4RN and Gigaclear have been trying to improve matters for rural areas by laying their own ultrafast fibre optic networks, leading to some remote villages receiving blazing fast 1Gb connections, though this still only covers a small area of the UK.
The answer may instead lie with 4G (You can find a full guide to what 4G is at Broadband Genie). The next generation of mobile networks offers a huge increase in mobile internet speeds that challenge fixed-line services. At present, EE’s 4G network can, in practice, deliver in excess of 20Mb to mobile devices (a glance at YouTube will reveal much faster speed tests), and they are currently upgrading the infrastructure to cope with a theoretical maximum of 80Mb.
This is a bigger step than the very modest 2Mb minimum goal of BDUK, and potentially far more attractive an option for both service and providers and residents.
While it may not presently be as quick as a fibre optic line, a 4G mast can saturate a wide area with fast internet access without requiring physical lines into every home. It’s less hassle for everyone involved, particularly for the most remote communities where homes may be far apart.
The downside is that mobile broadband speeds are highly variable, dependant on signal coverage and network congestion, so it’s difficult to guarantee any particular level of service. There’s also a question of cost. Current 4G services are pricey, and the data allowances limited in comparison to fixed line broadband which is often unrestricted.
Network operators would also need to know that their investment in infrastructure will result in a financial return, though here there is good news: as part of the 4G spectrum auction Ofcom mandated that winning networks must commit to covering 98% of the UK with 4G, giving it wider coverage than the older 2G signal.
While this will probably mean some not-spots remain for a small minority, it should ensure that many rural residents won’t need to wait for BT to come calling, and can instead switch to 4G ‘mobile’ internet using a Wi-Fi dongle or 4G home router.
Author bio: Matt Powell is the editor for the broadband comparison site Broadband Genie.