Broadband Genie editor Matt Powell gives us his lowdown on the broadband options available for those struggling with poor broadband in rural areas
Most of the UK now enjoys a good level of broadband service, often with the choice of many providers and several types of connection including superfast fibre and cable internet. It’s a better situation than many other countries.
But it’s not all rosy. There are still many people living in rural areas who are stuck with very slow broadband, or even ancient dial-up. And as well as inconveniencing homeowners, slow broadband is a problem for businesses too.
Why is rural broadband so slow?
As with many things it comes down to money. Fast broadband needs modern infrastructure but this isn’t cheap and network operators will consider what kind of return they’ll get for the investment. This unfortunately can mean that more remote locations miss out on upgrades as they’re not considered economically viable.
The broadband that is available may be impacted by technological limitations. ADSL in particular gets slower the further you are from the exchange, which is problematic enough even in busy towns and cities.
The good news is that change is on the horizon. The government has committed to a national minimum speed of 5Mb and is helping to fund upgrades, and other projects taking a different approach are also making an impact. As a result many rural areas are now enjoying fast broadband, sometimes with significantly better speeds than the rest of the country.
But if you’re still stuck in the last decade and can’t wait any longer there are steps you can take to get better broadband right now.
Your options for broadband in rural areas
- ADSL uses the telephone lines to offer a top download speed of around 17Mb. It’s advantages are low cost and ubiquity – chances are you have or can get ADSL right now as it is available to the overwhelming majority of the population. However as mentioned above the performance of ADSL drops off very quickly the further your home is from the nearest exchange, falling to just a few megabits per second after a couple of miles. That’s just about sufficient for basic web browsing and email but painful for anything more demanding. If ADSL is on offer it’s probably the cheapest and easiest option, but depending on your requirements the performance may be lacking.
- Mobile broadband used to be quite a disappointing experience, rarely providing a connection worthy of being described as broadband, but in the last few years there’s been a huge improvement in speed and both 3G and 4G can now challenge some fixed line services.The big catch with mobile internet is coverage. If regular broadband is slow because your home is remote then you may not have much in the way of a mobile signal either. And even if it is available this could be a very expensive option for anything more than light usage as mobile broadband is not generally geared toward home use. That said, mobile broadband may be utilised in the future to plug gaps in coverage in areas where fixed line installations would be very expensive. And if providers using mobile broadband for home services become more common we should see a fall in costs, too.
- Fibre optic.The last few years has seen a rise in community broadband projects, where neighbours or entire villages club together to implement their own fibre optic broadband upgrades. Sometimes this is deployed by BT (at no small cost, of course) or by smaller independent firms. Fibre is a future-proof technology that offers incredible speeds now and has plenty of room for faster connectivity for many years to come. It is not cheap to install, but it should stay relevant for a long time so it’s a sound investment for communities fed up with being left behind. Due to the cost this isn’t something that would be viable for one or two homes unless you’ve just won the lottery but if you can get enough people to commit, it is a very exciting option, giving a broadband service that’s far superior to most of the country.
- Satellite broadband. If your fixed line internet is restricted to dial-up, mobile signals aren’t available and fibre optic too expensive to consider, there’s always satellite broadband. Satellite is available right across the UK and all you need is the ability to mount a dish with a view of the sky. It can also provide a respectable connection speed, currently up to 22Mb for home users. There are several things to remember about satellite internet, however. First, the setup costs can run to hundreds of pounds as you’ll need to purchase or rent the equipment and probably pay for installation. Running costs too can be high compared to other home broadband solutions, and will usually come with a data allowance cap, so you may need to monitor usage. Also, satellite broadband has a much higher latency than other services, which means you’ll experience a great deal of ‘lag’ in things like online gaming. Despite these caveats though satellite broadband has a killer combination of good internet speeds and a huge amount of flexibility, which is a big advantage for the most remote homes.