Those fortunate enough to live in the picturesque backdrop of the UK countryside would likely trade little for it. Except, perhaps, a decent broadband connection.
Whether you’ve lived rurally your whole life or are planning an escape to the country, fast and reliable broadband is a necessity in today's life.
Unfortunately, living rurally in the UK does mean that the fast broadband speeds you may have once enjoyed as part of city life suddenly becomes a thing of the past.
We look at why rural broadband is slower when compared with broadband in more populated areas, what options are available, and what changes are being implemented to bring rural areas up to speed.
Why is rural broadband slow?
Although the situation has improved in recent times, broadband is notorious for its slow speeds in rural and remote areas. As a general rule of thumb, the further your home is situated from the cabinet or exchange, the slower your broadband will be. When compared to large cities and suburbs, exchanges and cabinets in rural areas are much more spread out, making internet speeds much slower.
Another factor for slower speeds can be attributed towards lack of competition in the market. With the broadband market, most companies use BT's Openreach infrastructure to install their own equipment with the intention of offering high-speed, reliable broadband. These providers are referred to as ‘Local Loop Unbundling’ (LLU) providers,
However, LLU providers only operate in areas that are considered to be financially beneficial. And, although LLU providers may offer their services in some rural areas, very remote areas – where a broadband connection is arguably most needed – are mostly overlooked due to a lack of economic viability.
Limited, and in some cases, a complete lack of infrastructure also contributes to why broadband providers struggle to supply a good service. Upgrading networks in rural areas is costly and in low demand, leaving many exchanges reliant on BT's older and slower networks.
However, the UK government - through it’s ‘Project Gigabit’ initiative – has begun taking active steps to mitigate the reliance on this old technology, pledging £5bn in funding to help remote areas “level-up” their broadband access. A further £210m in vouchers and an additional £110m to connect 7,000 rurally located libraries, schools and GP surgeries has also been allocated.
Types of broadband in rural areas
Below is an overview of the types of broadband available in rural areas in the UK. Please bear in mind that access to these services may differ depending on your exact location.
Otherwise known as ‘standard broadband’, ADSL is delivered through copper wires. In areas with no significant issues, ADSL provides average download speeds of 10-11Mbps. In rural areas, this speed may be drastically reduced.
Standard fibre broadband delivers broadband via a high-speed fibre optic cable. However, although the cable from the exchange to the cabinet is fibre optic, the remaining distance - from the cabinet to your home - is covered by copper wire. It is for this reason that, if you suffer from existing slow speeds on ADSL, then upgrading to fibre may do very little to resolve the issue. However, make sure to check with the provider you’re looking at switching to as they’ll be able to give you an idea of what to expect for speeds.
Mobile broadband is a wireless internet signal transmitted from a mobile or any device that contains a SIM card. If you live in a rural location and struggle to get a wired broadband connection, a mobile connection can be considered a fantastic alternative. But the strength of your connection will be dependent on the level of mobile coverage you receive.
Why is ADSL and FTTC broadband slower in rural areas?
Both ADSL and FTTC broadband uses copper wire – either for the entire service, or from the cabinet to your home. And, the further the signal must travel over these copper wires, the weaker the signal will be. Therefore, if your property is located a significant distance from the outdoor streetside cabinet you can expect speeds to be fairly slow.
It's worth noting that Virgin Media is one of the only providers not on BT’s Openreach network. So, if you’re fortunate enough to have access to Virgin, you’ll experience super-fast speeds regardless of your location. As for remaining providers that currently service rural areas, because they are on the Openreach network, speeds may vary from one provider to another, although not enough to make much of a difference.
Before committing to any provider, make sure to request a “speed estimate” on your line, so you know what kind of download and upload speeds to expect.
Types of mobile broadband in rural areas
Below is an overview of the types of mobile broadband available in rural areas across the UK.
The MiFi is, in essence, a battery-powered (charged via USB), miniature version of a home broadband router. These pocket-sized devices can be taken anywhere, and although the range won’t be as far reaching as a standard plug-in router, they’re a great way to offer a broadband connection to several people occupying the same space at once.
If you own an iPhone, Android, or any other kind of smartphone, you will likely have access to turn on a ‘Mobile Hotspot’ in your Settings. This feature allows you to temporarily turn your smartphone into a router and connect other devices (e.g., a laptop or tablet) to that network. The action of connecting one device to another using this method is known as ‘tethering’. Tethering can be a great temporary option for broadband access but keep an eye on your mobile’s data allowance – especially if you’re not on a tariff with unlimited data.
Data-only SIM card:-
A data-only SIM is a SIM card without a phone number. Its sole purpose is to provide data. They’re often used in tablets like iPads, but some newer laptops do have a space for these cards. If you have a non-mobile device capable of accepting a SIM (laptop, tablet etc.) then this can be a great alternative for those who don’t wish to cart around a MiFi device.
Satellite broadband is where you receive a broadband signal from space via a satellite dish attached to your home. If other options for broadband (ADSL/fibre/mobile) are unavailable, satellite is the next best option. This is because, irrespective of your location, satellite will be available and can deliver speeds up to 33Mbps. It does come with its drawbacks, however.
Satellite broadband packages, when compared with more “standard” broadband deals, are significantly more expensive. Furthermore, while regular broadband deals tend to come with very high, or even unlimited data plans, Satellite packages are often limited with the amount of data on offer per month.
You will likely have little problem if you intend to use satellite broadband for activities that aren’t reliant on an instant response from the server, such as streaming movies and music, checking emails and browsing the internet. If, however, you are a gamer into online gaming, latency, or delay, caused by the signal being received from space into your home means lag will be an issue.
Nevertheless, if you can afford the cost for satellite, and would otherwise receive slower speeds via other options (ADSL/fibre/mobile), then satellite is the next best alternative.
Change is coming
Although rural areas continue to struggle with accessing reliable broadband, the government has been taking note. In recent years, they've pledged to bring rural areas up to speed.
In 2019, gigabit coverage was a mere 7% for the entirety of the UK. Since then, over 20 million premises – residential and business – have gained access to gigabit broadband, bringing the number up from seven to 70%.
In 2021, after announcing their ‘Project Gigabit’ initiative, the government promised £5bn to help provide rural communities with reliable broadband. £110m will also be used to connect rural schools, GP surgeries and libraries to faster broadband. £210m has also been pledged towards the ‘Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme’.
On August 30th 2022, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a further “broadband boost” to homes and businesses in rural Dorset. The announcement falls in line with the government's goal of achieving 85% gigabit coverage UK-wide by 2025.
Gigabit broadband voucher scheme
The government is providing £210m worth of voucher funding through its ‘Gigabit Broadband Voucher scheme’. The scheme provides immediate help for people experiencing slow broadband speeds in rural areas.
If you live rurally and would like to install a gigabit-capable connection in your home, check your eligibility by running a quote with Switchcraft,
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