Is 4G the answer to rural broadband blackspots?
EE is soon to roll out ’up to 20Mbps’ broadband over 100 square miles of the Cumbrian Northern Fells – an area previously untouched by decent broadband. Is 4G the answer to Britain’s broadband blackspots?
Well, that’s the plan. When Ofcom announced its 4G spectrum auction, where providers like EE, O2 and Vodafone bid for slices of the invisible wireless spectrum pie, it set a target to ensure most of the UK can use 4G for indoor broadband in a few years time. Why? Because it hopes 4G is the solid gold answer to getting decent broadband to parts of the UK where even BBC iPlayer is a challenge.
But, while I believe 4G makes a very strong case for being the answer to rural broadband issues, it’s far from a done deal.
Will it be good value?
My first concern is about value. EE says the initial price will be £15.99 for typical speeds of 8-12Mbps and a maximum of 20Mbps. So far, so reasonable. But how much data will £15.99 get the good people in the Northern Fells?
EE has confirmed to me that £15.99 equates to 3GB per month. Add another £10 (£25.99) and you can get 8GB – a decent amount for a single-user tablet, but not much use for a family of four, each of whom wants to devour online video at a rate of knots. EE will monitor usage to create new plans, but there’s no guarantee than these will be better value.
EE could be more generous with its rural broadband plans – we just don’t know yet. But, for comparison, BT offers totally unlimited ‘up to 16Mbps’ broadband for £31.75 including line rental. Faster speeds are great, but without decent data limits they’re handicapped.
Will 4G networks keep up in the speed race?
My other concern is simply the speed of development.
Wireless internet technology is incredible – countries with more advanced networks can hit speeds in the region of 40Mbps or more. However, reaching those heights requires investment; something the UK isn’t renowned for doing in a timely manner.
EE’s speeds in the Northern Fells are a clear step in the right direction, but when built-up areas begin to scale the heights of 100Mbps or more, 12Mbps will quickly feel rather slow again.
Just a note of caution. As I said earlier, I think 4G makes a good case for being an answer to rural broadband and EE should be applauded for taking the initiative. However, until questions like the above are answered, we can’t be certain it’s the answer we want.
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