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Could 4G offer a solution to rural broadband woes?

Friday, October 18th 2013 by Cable.co.uk
Could 4G offer a solution to rural broadband woes?
EE launches a 4G-powered home broadband package next month, but will this really revolutionise rural connectivity?

Earlier this week, EE revealed that a raft of new products and services will be launched this month and next - a lineup that roughly coincides with the first anniversary of the operator's UK-leading 4G network.

Perhaps the most interesting of the new packages is EE's first ever 4G-powered home broadband bundle. Details released so far are sketchy - we don't yet know when the service will be available, or how much it will cost - but the operator is already keen to sell it as a cure for the connectivity woes of the hardest-to-reach UK communities.

"This will offer huge benefits to rural areas and reaffirms EE's commitment to bringing 4G to as many people as possible," it said.

Is 4G really going to be a practical home broadband solution for Britain, though? Obviously, there's been plenty of derision poured on publicly-funded fixed-line provisions for areas not covered by commercial fibre infrastructure. The Broadband Delivery UK programme's most recent high-profile drubbing came courtesy of the Public Accounts Committee, which cited a lack of transparency and a two-year delay as evidence that consumers are "getting a raw deal despite the generous public subsidy".

Perhaps it's this image problem that has encouraged EE to market 4G home broadband - which might ultimately be an extremely niche service - in rather more grandiose terms than are strictly warranted. The operator is keen to sell 4G as a success story, having achieved 60 per cent coverage in the UK within a year and planning to expand this to 98 per cent in 2014.

However, recent statistics from Ofcom reveal that EE's broadband pedigree isn't exactly something a respectable proportion of consumers will vouch for. According to the regulator's complaints figures for the second quarter of 2013, EE is the most complained-about provider in the UK.

To be sure, it's evidently salvaged some reputation since the end of 2012, when it generated a massive 0.7 complaints per 1,000 customers. This has since fallen to 0.32 per 1,000, but that's still double the industry average.

This suggests that if EE wants to position itself as the saviour of rural communities still desperate for superfast connectivity, it might yet have lots to prove in terms of customer satisfaction.

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