Rural businesses know only too well that promises of superfast broadband in 95% of properties by 2020 is unlikely to deliver what they need in time. Outdated or non-existent infrastructure, long distances to local exchanges and prohibitive costs for upgrading remain significant challenges to rural communities.
According to the National Farmers Union, 73% of its members have less than 2Mbps upload speeds while 50% have less than 2Mbps download speed. A staggering 83% of NFU members surveyed said they had not even been offered superfast broadband yet!
While farmers make up a small proportion of the rural business economy, they are an important proportion. So what are the options for rural businesses who want faster broadband?
Alternative broadband options for rural businesses
With traditional fixed line broadband not yet delivering what rural businesses need, there is a requirement to look elsewhere for a solution. Fortunately, depending on where you live, there are opportunities for faster broadband.
In that same NFU survey, 80% of respondents said they had 4G coverage on their property. This offers the opportunity for mobile broadband. If you have a reliable 4G signal, mobile broadband could offer up to 40Mbps and be used on any device. Signal repeaters can be installed within buildings if signals are weak and 4G WiFi dongles are very cheap.
EE, ironically owned by BT, offer some good mobile internet deals that deliver up to 40Mbps and 15GB of data for £22 per month with a 24 month contract. Three, Vodafone, O2 and smaller providers also offer mobile broadband deals.
Fixed Wireless Access
Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) is an alternative to fixed line broadband. It works in a similar way to mobile broadband and uses repeaters to provide radio signals to rural areas which you can connect to using a wireless router. The upside to FWA is that it is wireless and offers connection speeds of up to 40Mbps. The downside is that it is currently limited to certain areas while the technology is rolled out.
There are a number of vendors offering FWA access including Arran Broadband, Beacon Broadband, Beeline Broadband, Derbyshire Broadband and many others. Costs vary from £15 a month up to £45 a month. Speeds vary too, from 10Mbps up to 40Mbps.
Local broadband providers
BT and Virgin Media are not the only ones that can provide good quality broadband in your area. There are many smaller operators who provide credible local broadband connections. They are often very competitively priced and offer the same or similar speeds of the national providers. Our broadband checker can tell you exactly what providers serve your area.
Satellite broadband is an expensive way to get connected but some rural businesses have no other choice. There are a number of providers who enable satellite broadband access and can connect your property as long as it has a clear line of sight to the satellite. It is an option of last resort purely because of cost, but is certainly better than nothing if you can afford it.
Satellite broadband is available across the country in any location with a clear view of the sky. It is costly though. Installation costs can be high and monthly fees are expensive. Satellite broadband also suffers from latency as the signal has to go from your router to the satellite, back down to earth to the receiving station, to the internet and back again.
Costs for satellite broadband range from £60 per month for up to 30Mbps with data capped at 25GB up to £800 per month for 50Mbps and 500GB data.
Leased line sharing
BT and other providers will connect you to the superfast network but at a cost. Depending on your location and distance from your nearest exchange, that cost could be a few hundred pounds to many thousands. Leased lines are also expensive to run. However, if there are a collection of businesses within the same location you could share that cost.
Businesses can share leased lines through a router with wired connections or wirelessly. As long as you manage the contractual obligations and enforce fair use, this is a very viable option for rural businesses. Leased lines can cost from £300 a month.
The future of rural broadband
Even with the government’s Universal Service Obligation, the challenges facing rural and remote businesses remain. While upgrades are ongoing, it’s a slow and expensive process. The USO mandates 10Mbps internet connections which is slow even by current standards. The government has said it wants the entire country to be fully fibre connected by 2033 but has yet to commit.
With Brexit on the horizon both local and national government are not planning any big spending on broadband for the foreseeable future. That means it is up to individual rural businesses to find a solution and for forward thinking companies to provide them. Fortunately, a competitive market is providing the services we need as long as you know where to look.