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Information on rural broadband and notspots from Simplifydigital.com

Notspots exist as the great majority of broadband customers access broadband via the DSL (copper wire) broadband network.

By on February 16, 2012 at 10:52 AM
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Information on rural broadband and notspots from Simplifydigital.com

Lack of broadband availability in rural areas is a major socio-economic issue in the UK:

 

  • Well over 3 million homes in the UK have broadband speeds of less than two megabits per second (2Mbps) and a significant proportion of those can't get a broadband service at all and must rely on dial up
  • Notspots are not limited to rural areas, with many in suburban areas and even streets in major towns (see http://www.broadband-notspot.org.uk/)
  • These so called broadband "notspots" are a big policy challenge for the government, which is committed to providing 2 Mb/s (Megabites per second) broadband access for all by the end of 2012. 

With the DSL broadband technology, customers need to be within 4 km of their local telephone exchange in order to get a broadband service with speeds of 2Mb/sec or more.   And if they live over 5 km from the exchange they are unlikely to be able to receive broadband at all.

In addition all speeds are "up to" and vary depending on how many users are online at the same time (a phenomenon known as contention).  At busy times, speeds will slow drastically, so that an up to 2 Mb/s service may only deliver 0.25 Mb/s for example, just when you want to use the internet most.

Ofcom's latest data published in March 2011 shows that:

  • Average broadband speeds up 19% yoy to 6.2 Mbps - but rural broadband customers very unlikely to have been party to this rise
  • The most common ADSL packages deliver only 29% of the advertised "up to" speed of 20 or 24 Mbps
  • In contrast fibre-optic packages deliver an average of 90-96% of speeds advertised in the case of Virgin Media and 78% of the speed advertised in the case of BT Infinity



Charlie Ponsonby, CEO of Ofcom accredited broadband comparison service Simplifydigital.com notes:

"Broadband access in rural areas is a huge problem as the web is so key for kids' schooling, running businesses and simply staying in touch with the world.  Over 2 million homes either cannot receive broadband at all, or are stuck with a broadband connection of less than 2 Mbps, which makes many online activities next to impossible."    
 
But why are broadband speeds important?  Simply put, your broadband speed will determine how fast that you can download stuff from the internet.  Viewing web pages requires data to be downloaded to your computer.  Simple web surfing and emailing uses relatively little data, but if you want to view video content, which is appearing on many sites (including the Telegraph online), it requires faster speeds to see a good quality picture.  So regular users of BBC iPlayer for example, rely on adequate broadband speeds.  So too do families with multiple users (e.g. kids) who are downloading lots of content.    

Charlie Ponsonby explains:

"Broadband speed is the basic determinant of any web experience, as it controls how quickly and easily you can access content of all sorts.  The slowest "up to 2 Mbps" broadband connection is about 40 times faster than a dial-up connection, but itself is too slow for most households." 

Why is broadband so slow in rural areas?

There are two ways of delivering broadband in the UK - so-called DSL broadband which uses the existing copper phone lines and cable (fibre-optic) broadband which uses specially laid cable.

The key constraint with DSL broadband is that the speed deteriorates rapidly the further away you live from the local telephone exchange.  As a result dispersed rural broadband users are often particularly poorly served.  The table below shows the broadband speed decay curve.

Since the telecoms market has been deregulated, broadband providers can put their own equipment in local telephone exchanges under a system known as local loop unbundling (LLU).  This encourages the installation of advanced broadband technology (which allow the delivery of faster broadband over the copper network) such as ADSL 2+.

There needs to be a high density of potential broadband customers to merit investment in LLU by broadband providers.  As a result, few rural exchanges have been unbundled by broadband providers.  This also gives BT little incentive to install the faster ADSL 2+ technology.  As a result rural exchanges may will be hit by a "double whammy" of basic ADSL technology and customers living a long distance from the exchange.

Broadband speed decay curve
Distance from exchange 0km 1km 2km 3km 4km 5km+
% of advertised speed you should receive 99% 92% 67% 42% 17% 8%

Fibre-optic broadband speed does not degrade with distance from the exchange, but very little fibre optic broadband is available in rural areas. This is because the economics don't tend to work in retail areas as the low density of potential customers would deliver insufficient revenues to cover the cost.


Satellite broadband and other solutions to notspots

Realistically you have three options, listed below.  We recommend getting satellite broadband as the most robust solution (that is increasingly cost effective).

If you do not want to settle for a slow and clunky dial-up connection you can:

  •    Firstly consider satellite broadband from a company like Tooway.  Recently costs have been coming down significantly. The basic Tooway package offers 6 Mbps download speed (and you will get very close to this speed) for £24.99 per month with a £179.98 upfront install cost. 


You can call the Simplifydigital independent experts to discuss your satellite broadband options on 0800 840 5362.  Simplifydigital's London based experts help thousands of customers every month and are available free from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday; 9am to 5:30pm on Saturday and 10am until 5pm on Sunday.  Alternatively, you can find them online at www.simplifydigital.com

  •  Consider a mobile broadband service, though this needs a 3G mobile signal to work well and so may also not be available in your area mobile broadband does not require a home phone line as it uses the mobile phone network accessed via a special "dongle"

 

  •  Come together as a community and get a broadband service installed in your community.  This is a major undertaking, requiring capital and community organization.  Though it is possible as was demonstrated by the people of Lyddington in Leicestershire who founded Rutland Telecom to provide 200 homes in Lyddington with speeds of around 40Mbps.


There are also a limited number of niche broadband providers offering local broadband services in rural areas.  One such niche provider is Beeline Broadband which has a very limited wireless broadband service in Newton Upon Rawcliffe and Stape in Yorkshire, for customers out of reach of conventional DSL broadband services.

Charlie Ponsonby notes:

"Satellite broadband is an increasingly cost effective way for people in notspot areas to get an effective broadband connection.  Tooway, which provides a very good broadband service is our pick of the satellite broadband deals."

Medium term changes to the rural broadband landscape

In the medium term, notspots may become a thing of the past as there are other broadband technologies in development which could overcome the problem.  For example is developing a technology called BET (Broadband Enabling Technology) which it hopes will solve the problem by extending the broadband "range" from 5 km to 12 km.

BET can provide broadband speeds between 1 and 2Mb/sec for notspot homes currently saddled with dial-up and BT have stated that with financial support from the government they could roll out the technology to bring broadband to every home in the UK by 2012.


Trouble shooting - specific reasons which maybe preventing you from getting broadband
Line length
Line length will effect your ability to get ADSL or your potential ADSL speeds. Although you may be close to your nearest BT exchange your line might in fact be using another exchange much further away.
Poor line quality
Poor line quality can be caused by several things such as bad joins, corrosion and and water which will affect your copper pair's ability to provide you will reliable connection.
Fibre line
Some telephone lines are provided partly over a fibre optic connection which stops you being able to get a broadband connection. This is known as TPON. Most areas within ADSL distance of the exchange already have a copper overlay scheme in place which may allow you to get broadband, however capacity can be strictly limited.
Incompatible product on line
Products such as ISDN, RedCare and FeatureNet service will prevent you from ordering ADSL on your BT line until they are removed.
Poor internal wiring
If you have poor internal wiring for your telephone extensions causing slow broadband speeds you may benefit from installing an I-Plate. A BT I-Plate can improve your broadband speed by on average around 1.5 meg and also improve the reliability of your connection.
DACS line
A DACS is a line sharing device that allows two telephone lines to be provided over a single cable. Due to the way they work, they stop broadband from working on the line. BT Openreach have a policy of removing DACS if you order broadband and it is in place on your line, however it may increase the order time. A DACS will not be installed if broadband and a telephone line are ordered together in a 'simultaneous provide'.

 

Appendix table

           

 

Notes to editors:
Simplifydigital.com offers a free and impartial "Switching Support" service for anyone looking to get a digital TV, broadband or phone package.
Its London-based impartial experts are available for free over the phone, to answer all those tricky questions and match the family's needs to the best deal available.
Simplifydigital.com's experts are available for free on 0800 1 388 388 seven days a week (Lines open Mon-Fri 8am-8pm; Saturday 9am-5:30pm; Sunday 10-5:30pm).
You can also use Simplifydigital.com's Ofcom accredited comparison engine online at www.simplifydigital.com.

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