According to a recent study published by the Institute of Directors (IoD)1, although the UK has the world's 6th largest economy2, its broadband infrastructure ranks only:
- 18th in the world on average connection speeds;
- 19th in the world on the fastest connection speeds;
- 16th in the world on the percentage of connections above 4 Mbps;
- 21st in the world on the percentage of connections above 10 Mbps;
Shocking as these statistics are, broadband performance is significantly worse in rural areas of the UK, with a clear divide to that seen in urban areas. In the Greater London area, between 5% and 10% of broadband connections offer speeds of less than 2.2Mbps. This proportion rises to over 15% in many rural communities.
OFCOM – UK Broadband Connection Speeds3
Percentage Of Connections < 2.2Mbps
Note: Each region of the UK has been ranked from 1 to 5 on the percentage of broadband connections that have modem sync speeds of less than 2.2Mbps.
1 = less than 5% of fixed broadband connections have modem sync speeds less than 2.2Mbps
2 = 5% – less than 10%
3 = 10% – less than 15%
4 = 15% – less than 20%
5 = 20% or more of fixed broadband connections have modem sync speeds less than 2.2Mbps
OFCOM's own data is further re-enforced by the IoD study, which concludes that while overall the IoD's membership are generally satisfied with fixed broadband speeds for their businesses, there is a stark gap between members based in urban and rural areas:
- Overall 57% of IoD members are satisfied with the speed of their fixed broadband service for downloads, compared to 29% dissatisfied.
- However only 34% of members with a primary workplace in a rural area are satisfied with the speed of their fixed line service for downloads, while 51% are dissatisfied.
Furthermore, IoD members with a primary workplace in a rural area believe that significantly faster broadband speeds would bring a range of economic benefits.
- 88% say that significantly faster fixed-line and mobile internet services would improve the productivity of their business;
- 75% think that faster speeds would improve the overall competitiveness of their business;
- 60% say that higher speeds would encourage them to offer more flexible working opportunities to staff;
- 37% say that higher speeds would encourage them to invest more in their business;
- 15% think that faster internet services would encourage their business to hire more staff.
On the 20th February 2013, OFCOM concluded it's 4G auction and awarded licenses to EE, O2, Three and Vodafone and BT4, raising £2.34bn for HM Government in the process.
The results of this auction will have important consequences for rural broadband:
- Only one spectrum lot of 2x10MHz, won by O2, has a coverage obligation5 associated with the award. The operator is now obliged to provide a minimum indoor mobile broadband download speed of only 2Mbps to at least 98% of the UK population and at least 95% of the population of each of the UK nations, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, by the end of 2017.
- The coverage obligation spectrum has a theoretical peak throughput of 73Mbps. However studies conducted in the USA6, show that the average actual throughput of a 10MHz channel, is less than 10Mbps for downloads and less than 6Mbps for uploads.
- There is no obligation on this spectrum holder to provide a minimum upload speed.
Rural broadband is in the state it is today, because of a failure of market forces. By setting such low coverage targets for 4G, OFCOM has done nothing to address this failure, which will result in a repeat of the 3G experience7,8.
"The wrong decision was made about coverage of 3G" - Ed Richards, Chief Executive, OFCOM9
While operators will upgrade existing 2G or 3G sites to support 4G and may introduce some new cell sites, coverage in rural areas will continue to be patchy. It is highly likely that areas with poor 2G or 3G coverage today, will continue to have poor coverage (and hence lower data speeds) when 4G is introduced.
However rural communities need not despair. There are low cost solutions available that can significantly improve 4G broadband speeds. These solutions do not depend upon operators investing in new cell sites. Nor do they require the urbanization of our rural communities.
Innovative products such as the BandRich E500, with it's integrated high gain antennas, can deliver significantly improved broadband speeds, right to the edge of 4G coverage.
While traditional mobile broadband products (such as USB modems, personal hotspots or indoor routers) will undoubtedly have a role to play in delivering rural broadband, these products perform best when used in areas of good coverage. According to a press release issued by BandRich today10, trials conducted over 18 months in Cumbria, concluded that "broadband speeds are enhanced through the deployment of outdoor routers which utilise integrated high-gain antenna, such as the BandRich E500". Furthermore, "in areas that experience poor coverage and at the edge of the mobile network, the BandRich E500 has been proven to deliver broadband speeds averaging 35Mbps download and near 15Mbps upload".
Average 4G download speed during trial: 36.49Mbps
Average 4G upload speed during trial: 14.88Mbps
During the 4G Cumbria trial, the BandRich E500 was successfully deployed in the following rural applications:
- Residential broadband
- Broadband to home-based micro businesses
- Broadband to small business premises
- Broadband to educational facilities
- Backhaul for small cells, providing 3G voice and data services
“Our holiday cottage business is located in an area with poor fixed broadband speeds and poor mobile coverage. During the trial of the E500, we received a superb Internet service via the E500 on the EE 4G network. In one of the most rural parts of the country, we are able to offer guests world-class Internet access, and have used broadband to transform the way we manage our business on-line.” - Stephen Woolley, 4G Trialist, Cumbria, UK10
EE Cumbria 4G trial, Summer 2012, featuring Stephen Woolley, Near Howe Holiday Cottages11
EE 4G Coverage Map – Threlkeld, Cumbria
EE Coverage Checker – Image dated 17th November 201312
“When it comes to rural broadband the BandRich E500 delivered excellent data speeds when deployed on the cell edge, where not all devices would connect. The unit performed very well in challenging weather conditions.” - Paul Coffey, Head of Strategic Development, EE10
Such benefits are not restricted to the UK. Leading telecommunications providers such as Dish and nTelos Wireless in the USA13, also recognise the benefits of deploying the BandRich E500. Deploying an outdoor router with high gain antennas, results in improved delivery of high speed services, when compared to products deployed indoors.
"I've never seen a wireless product provide that much bandwidth" - Anthony Gingerich, Fixed Wireless Broadband Test User, Virginia, USA14
By combining 4G networks with innovative products such as the E500, which supports a maximum download speed of 100Mbps15, BandRich believe significantly improve broadband speeds can be cost effectively delivered to rural communities. Delivering such speeds will lead to an improved internet experience for both residential and business user, as confirmed by the Cumbria trial, which in turn will contribute towards the economic benefits envisaged by the Institute of Directors.
“The results from the trial completely validate the performance of the E500 series, proving that it meets a real customer need when mobile coverage is poor, particularly in rural areas.” - Dr. Wen-Yi Kuo, Chief Executive Officer, BandRich10
EE is due to launch 4G in Cumbria and the Northern Fells region on 6th December 2013. To register your interest in the service, please visit the EE Cumbria registration page on their website.
The BandRich news release announcing the successful completion of the rural LTE trial in Cumbria, United Kingdom, can be found here.
On the date of publication, BandRich Inc. were a client of Light the Fuse Ltd
The original article, dated 4th March 2013, on the subject of LTE and its possible role in rural broadband was updated on 18th November 2013. Updates to the article ensure it now includes the latest OFCOM statistics, various announcements from EE and the results of the BandRich E500 trials from the UK and USA.