Alternative technologies for broadband in rural areas

Having access to fast broadband is important for both individuals and businesses.

In an ideal world everyone would have access to fibre broadband, and that is what CSW Broadband is working hard to deliver. However, this will take time (and money!) and in the meantime your connection possibilities may only be a very basic ADSL service, which can’t deliver the speed you would really like. If the speed you can receive is less than 2Mbps, the area you are in is known as a “slow spot”.

It might be the case that you can’t get land-based broadband at all, or only at speeds less than 0.144Mbps. If this is true, you are located in a “not spot”.

The most common type of broadband connection in the UK is via ADSL. This type of connection is distance dependent, which means that the connection speed you achieve relies heavily on how close your business or household is to the nearest telephone exchange. Other factors, such as the quality and type of the cabling also have an effect on speed. This means that slow spots and not spots are often the result of the property or area affected being at the very end of the telephone line from the local exchange.

As the effect of distance is so critical to the speed and quality of internet connection, rural areas tend to be difficult to serve with ADSL. Also, as rural areas are sparsely populated, other types of commercial broadband service providers are unlikely to be interested as it wouldn’t be commercially viable. Unfortunately, areas of the West Midlands and Warwickshire are large, rural and sparsely populated; leading to us having the issue of slow spots and not spots.

You can check the speed of your internet connection using this link:

Please be aware of advertisements on these websites which may prompt you to download software and which promote “special offers”. Note that you do not need to download any software to run the broadband speed tests – you just need to click on the option to begin or start the test. WCC is not responsible for the content on external Internet sites.

As provision of broadband in rural areas is so problematic, some companies have seen this as an opportunity. They are working with local communities across rural areas of the UK to help them solve the slow spot/not spot issue.

If you’re in a “slow spot”

There are some practical and easy-to-implement actions that you can take today to improve the speed and quality of your broadband connection. Read our how to improve your broadband speed webpage.

If you’re in a “not spot”

Getting broadband in some areas is not possible via the existing ADSL infrastructure. The distance from the exchange is too far for the broadband signal to travel and still be effective. We recommend you read through the two alternatives below and then look into the Satellite Subsidy Scheme that has been set up by BDUK to help those with less than 2Mbps get a satellite connection. There are two alternative types of broadband which are delivered via non-land-based routes, and which are available now:

1. Broadband via mobile phone technology

The first is broadband via mobile phone coverage, in particular via 3G. You don’t have to connect your computer to your mobile phone: you simply plug a USB device known as a “dongle” into your computer that acts as your broadband modem.

Unfortunately, 3G coverage in the county is patchy, particularly in the rural areas! However, web browsing and sending email can be achieved more slowly via the previous 2G technology – for which coverage is better. A warning though – 2G technology might be quite slow.

Click here to check the coverage for all mobile phone networks in your area.

Before signing a contract for broadband via mobile phone technology, we would strongly suggest that you check you can actually receive a signal where you live that is sufficient for what you need to do. Also, be aware that you are likely to be given a very limited usage allowance for the amount of data you can download. If you only want the internet to browse the web and send or receive emails, you may be fine with a download limit of 2GB per month. However, if you want to stream video from YouTube or download music, you would rapidly use your monthly download allowance – and then would probably be charged a fixed rate for each 1MB above that. This means that you do need to be careful with internet use via this means, or costs can escalate.

Broadband via mobile may provide the solution for a limited number of residents in “not spots”, but is unlikely to solve the problem for all.

2. Broadband via satellite

It is possible to receive broadband via a satellite, and the available speeds are increasing, whilst costs are now starting to reduce.

The majority of satellites currently used are located in geostationary orbits. This means they appear to remain fixed above one location on the Earth’s surface, normally over the equator, enabling them to always receive and send signals back and forth to the same area on Earth. A geostationary orbit has to be at an altitude of about 23,000 miles above Earth, hence their “footprint” (the area covered by their signal) is extremely large, e.g. most of Europe for satellites targeted at this continent.

You are almost guaranteed to be able to get broadband via satellite. You will need a satellite dish and a subscription to a satellite ISP. They normally set the dish and equipment up for you as part of your installation fee.

Building, launching and operating satellites is very expensive, and these costs are necessarily passed on to people using their services. Satellite broadband tends to be more expensive than ground-based technologies and have much stricter limits in terms of how much information you can send and receive.

The distance to the satellite also creates another problem. The signals have to travel very far both there and back – around 46,000 miles. This gives rise to a problem called latency – slight time delays as signals traverse the distance. You may have noticed this slight time delay effect if you have made telephone calls to Australia, the USA or other long distance routes via satellite. Latency accounts for about half a second of delay on a broadband signal travelling to the satellite and back. For normal web browsing and sending emails, this is unimportant. However, some computer applications find this a problem. Latency can make using video conferencing, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls, Virtual Private Networks and online gaming difficult at times. However, for most people who simply want to browse the web, send emails and upload files to cloud storage it is OK.

You also need to have a clear line of sight from the satellite dish installed on your property towards the satellite – trees and other obstacles can restrict or block signals. Weather, in particular rain and snow, can also degrade the signal.

Satellite broadband technology has improved enormously over recent years, and will continue to do so. Satellite broadband is therefore likely to remain the last choice option for most people. However, if you are in a “not spot” and urgently need broadband, satellite may be your only viable option. BDUK has launched a Satellite Subsidy Scheme to help those receiving less than 2Mbps get a faster connection via satellite – click here to find out more.

Other information in this section:

The contents for this page have been adapted from the following source: