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Rural broadband experts: 4G 'not an alternative to fixed broadband'

Monday, June 2nd 2014 by Hannah Langston

Rural broadband activists have welcomed the rollout of 4G mobile broadband to remote areas, but warn it should not be seen as a replacement for fixed broadband.

Last week, EE, the UK’s biggest 4G provider, announced it will be upgrading over 2,500 small towns and villages to 4G before the end of the year. At the same time Vodafone told Cable.co.uk it recognised the importance of rural connectivity and is on track to achieve 98% coverage in 2015.

However, Christine Conder, a founder member of community broadband initiative Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN), told us: “It would be great to have 4G, but not as a substitute for a fixed connection.” An opinion echoed by many other rural broadband campaigners.

The government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project aims to deliver superfast broadband (defined as an internet connection over 24Mbps) to 95% of the UK by 2017. However, some rural areas have been classed as uneconomical to upgrade. The remaining 5% of the country will be able to receive at least 2Mbps by the end of the project.

Paul Dixon from Action for Rural with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), a charity representing the 38 rural councils, told us: “The rollout of 4G is a positive thing. It means another option for rural areas and will help those who need to use the internet to conduct a business, communicate with others etc.

“But it is not an alternative to fixed broadband – it’s one of a mixture of options that people can use to get online.”

A £10m broadband innovation fund was set-up in March to help boost internet connectivity in remote areas by investing in innovative ideas such as satellite broadband and 4G.

Ben Haines, founder of Lincolnshire community broadband project FibreLincs, warns that rural communities could end up paying more for a 4G internet connection: “With packages often being limited to 5/10/15GB they aren't suitable for homes with kids or people working from home.”

“So even with good coverage after the odd mobile software update, a few iPlayer views and music downloads, you'll be over your limit and paying through the nose per GB.”

However, John Delaney, associate vice president of mobile research at IDC, told us: “The 4G rollout in Germany, which completed over a year ago, can be used as a real-world benchmark. Their pricing is the same as fixed broadband but usage limits are lower.

“Effectively, consumers could be paying the same as they would for fixed broadband but using less data.”

Echoing the claims of rural broadband campaigners, Mr Delaney also told us that: “4G is a viable solution for people who haven’t already got fast broadband. It behaves similarly to a fixed broadband connection, so activities such as streaming will be the same, but you’ll definitely notice a difference if you’re a heavy user.”

Speaking to Ofcom earlier today, it told us that "it's too early to say" whether 4G could solve rural broadband issues. "We'll have to wait for the technology to roll out to villages and towns to make a judgement but ultimately it depends on the needs of the broadband user – a small business and a light home user are going to have different demands on the network," it said.

EE told us they've just launched new 4G Wi-Fi plans for customers in the 2,588 rural areas that will be upgraded to 4G. Home broadband packages start from £10 a month for 1GB of data increasing to £50 a month for 50GB. Small businesses get 4G slightly cheaper as they will pay £8.33 for 1GB and £41.67 for 50GB, a 80GB tariff is also available to business broadband users.

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Comments (8)

Peter Taylor
6th June 2014

BDUK funding was to provide broadband to small and remote rural communities. It has been hijacked to subsidise fibre to the towns and larger villages who were already getting a decent service.

James Saunby
3rd June 2014

We really mustn't use 4G rollout as an excuse for not getting fibre backhaul to rural communities. Chris and I might argue forever on the rest - but this is clear!

Stephen H
3rd June 2014

The ISP's say it costs too much to roll fibre out to rural locations but for years they have been charging us the same prices as the urban users who get a much faster service. So for all of the years we have effectively been "overpaying" the very least they should do is start looking at giving us some fibre lines. Also, users with sub 2MB/S lines are far more likely to upgrade then urban users who are already getting 5-15MB/S, so although there are less of us there will be a higher percentage of takeup.

Emma T
3rd June 2014

Wow, that's a lot of money, even if you offset as a business expense.

My brother in law has just got satellite via a local farm business park that has its own. Not as expensive as yours (don't know what limit they've got but apart from occasional use, and homework requirements for their son, they're unlikely to use it much), but still only get 5mbps. Still better that the dial up speed they had before - for some reason it was even slower than ours even though they're nearer the exchange.

Their choice was based on the secondary school refusing to provide homework details and exercises on paper, only online. Their old service wasn't fast enough for him to access the homework - just bad service on the school's behalf though.

3rd June 2014


I do use Satellite BB @£65 per month for 50Gb allowance. For me it was that or literally nothing -BTrefused to install ADSL because it wouldn't be any better than dialup. We are currently excluded from Round 1 of BDUK funding as well.

Satellite isn't the answer but I probably average about 10Mbps (supposed to be 20Mbps) but there is no alternative.

Chris we have conversed before on Twitter - the problem is when you are in a Hamlet with 10 - 12 houses in a 1/2 mile radius, the DIY approach is just not feasible.

Emma T
3rd June 2014

I echo Chris and Phil. We're not even remote, we're on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire, but still not getting 2G or 3G, or broadband over 1.5MB. Unless we pay ridiculous amounts for rural satellite broadband - then lose the flexibility of what mobile broadband access you get from being with BT.

We're not on the superfast roll out list...but I'd just love to get 5MB let alone anything higher. At the moment streaming doesn't happen, even YouTube suffers unless you're online at midnight or 5am. And for slow speeds we get to pay for up to 10mb prices. Really, we should pay for the speed we get rather than an 'up to' price. We're business and personal users - but at least what we pay is for unlimited broadband - which you need when everything's so slow.

4G and paying £50 a month for 50GB is insane. No-one's going to go for that. I used to go over 10GB each month, and that was before my husband got online, and prior to children 3 years ago. Rural communities don't necessarily expect superfast (it'd be nice, but unrealistic), it's be nice to get normal usable speeds

Phil Coates
3rd June 2014

So essentially what 4g offers is speed at the expense of cost and usage limits. What rural communities want is equity with everyone else i.e. Fibre at the same price and a choice of usage. The use of Taxpayers money to fibre up Counties excluding the very people the fund was aimed at seems totally perverse.

chris conder
2nd June 2014

Considering rural areas don't even have 2G in many places and 3G is a distant dream, whatever would make us believe we would get 4G? Who would lay fibre to the masts, and who would put up the masts? If it isn't economic to provide a phone service, then it won't be economic to provide a data one - so the same areas will be left out again. Its all a superfarce.

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