Broadband in rural areas

If you live in a rural area you may still find that your broadband speeds are achingly slow. Find out why and get a few solutions to getting better broadband for rural areas in our guide.

If you live in a rural area you may still find that your broadband speeds are achingly slow. Find out why and get a few solutions to getting better broadband for rural areas in our guide.

Holly Niblett
From the Digital team
minute read
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Posted 15 SEPTEMBER 2020

I live in a rural area. Will I get faster broadband soon?

In the 2020 Budget, the Government reiterated its plans for investment worth £5 billion, to help expand the UK’s broadband capabilities, including gigabit-capable broadband, by the end of 2025.

With any luck, many people living in rural areas will get faster broadband soon. The government has now delivered on its commitment to provide broadband with speeds of 24Mbps or faster to 95% of the UK. 
However, in 5% of – mostly rural – areas, this still isn’t available. Ofcom’s 2017 Connected Nations report revealed that around 1.1 million homes and businesses were unable to receive broadband speeds of 10Mbps and 2.6 million were unable to receive speeds of 30Mpbs.

To address this, the government and BT have announced a Universal Service Obligation (USO), which gives everyone in the UK the right to download speeds of at least 10Mbps by 2020.

Why are broadband speeds slower in rural areas?

Broadband is slower in rural areas partly because of infrastructure – the roll-out of fibre optic cable has been slower in rural areas than urban ones. It’s also partly because rural homes are likely to be some distance from street cabinets and telephone exchanges. Broadband speed deteriorates the further it has to travel along a copper wire, and as this can be several miles in rural areas broadband speeds are often a fraction of those quoted.

What are the alternatives to cable and fibre broadband?

There are a couple of alternatives to cable and fibre broadband, but they both have drawbacks.

Mobile broadband: broadband over mobile networks can be a viable alternative to phone lines, particularly with new faster networks like 4G. However, the problem with this for many rural households is you need a strong mobile signal and the download speeds can be low.

Satellite broadband: all you need for this is a dish that can point towards a satellite. However, despite prices having come down in recent years, there are still significant installation costs, restrictive data allowances, reports of poor performance (including downtime and ‘lags’) and, in some instances, indifferent customer service.

What broadband services are available in rural areas?

ADSL broadband

ADSL is the most common broadband connection in the UK, with even the majority of rural areas covered. This is because the broadband connection is carried over the traditional phone lines which service most UK homes. ADSL broadband offers much slower speeds compared to fibre broadband, but fast enough for small homes or less frequent users.

Fibre broadband

Fibre-optic broadband is split into two categories. By far the most common is a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) connection. This is where fibre-optic cables carry a very quick connection to your street cabinet, before the signal is transferred to your home across the traditional copper phone lines. It’s at that point that the connection can begin to suffer. The drop off in speed is largely determined by the distance between the street cabinet and your home, as the copper phone line can’t transmit the data at the same speeds as the fibre cabling, with the effect worsening over the length of the line. Because of this, rural areas tend to be the worst affected, as homes are increasingly far from the cabinet. 
A fibre to the premises (FTTP) connection is not affected by this, as fibre cabling is installed directly into the home, with no drop in performance across the line. However, FTTP connections are far less common across the UK, and even rarer in rural areas.

Cable broadband

Cable broadband is supplied by providers who operate outside of the Openreach network, operating their own network of cables to support your connection. It’s most similar to a fibre to the premises (FTTP) connection, connecting your home to the fibre street cabinet over special cables which are much faster than the traditional copper phone lines used for an ADSL or fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) connection. 
With cable broadband running on a separate network to Openreach, which covers most of the UK, you’ll need to check that coverage is available in your area. Most of the UK still doesn’t have access to this type of broadband, which means rural areas may struggle even more. Virgin Media are the largest broadband provider who offer a cable service.

Wireless broadband vs. wired broadband

Most UK home internet connections run off a wireless broadband router, which allows you to access the internet from anywhere in your home. This is by far the most convenient option, and speeds can be lightning fast. However, if you’re living in a rural area, your connection may suffer, whether that’s because you live far from the fibre street cabinet, or you’re on an ADSL connection and have lots of users in the home. 
If you’re struggling with speeds because you’re living in a rural area, you may want to consider a wired connection over an ethernet cable. While this is less convenient than wireless, as you’re forced to remain tethered to your router to remain connected, it does tend to offer the most consistent performance. 
Also, if you’re living in a rural area and your home is built with thick stone walls, a wireless connection may struggle to reach all areas of the home. If this is the case, you could install multiple wireless routers to provide a stronger signal across different areas of the home, or use a wired connection to guarantee a more consistent performance.

Mobile broadband

Mobile broadband may be a great option if you’re living in a rural area, because you’re bypassing the need for a cable connection altogether. With 4G mobile broadband reaching much of the UK, and with 5G expanding, you may find that this offers a very viable option for your connection. However, if you’re living in an area where you struggle to get good internet speeds for your phone, you may find you have a similar issue with a mobile broadband connection. Mobile broadband doesn’t typically offer speeds to rival fibre broadband, but the rollout of 5G across the UK may change this in future.

Satellite broadband

Satellite broadband is another option to avoid the need for a cable connection, as the connection is supplied through a satellite dish. This can make it a great option for rural homes, as the dish simply needs to be facing the right direction, which means you can get a decent connection from places you wouldn’t normally through cable. However, if you’re home doesn’t already have a satellite dish installed, the installation costs can be high. 
You’ll likely find that performance isn’t as strong as a fibre or cable connection, but it could be a good option for those living in areas where cabling is an issue.

Bonded broadband

If you’re struggling with a slow ADSL or fibre broadband service, because you’re living in a rural area, you could consider bonded broadband. This essentially combines multiple connections together to boost performance. For example, if you had a standard ADSL connection of around 10Mbps download, by bonding it with a second connection you could potentially double your download speeds to 20Mbps. 
This is a rare type of broadband, requiring multiple connections to the home and extra hardware to bond those connections, but it can be useful if you’re living in an area with poor broadband performance.

Is there anything else I can do to get faster broadband?

You may be able to get together with other people in your area to lobby for faster broadband services. Getting better broadband for rural areas can be difficult, but the Rural Broadband Partnership can help you find out whether there’s a project in your area and if there isn’t, they can help you start your own community group. Find more information on community broadband projects on their website.

You can also:

  • Register your interest in fibre broadband with BT. The more people that sign up, the better. If there’s a return to be had on BT’s investment, the chances are you’ll be more likely to get a faster service.
  • Start a local petition: if other people in your community are as frustrated as you, then they might have already begun this process, so find out and add your name.
  • Fund faster broadband with your neighbours: it’s been known for local communities or entire villages to club together to pay for the installation of fibre broadband. If you have like-minded neighbours, this could work.
  • Ask a private company to install a local network. You’ll need to be prepared to pay more by choosing this route, but it may be worth it to you.
  • Reach out to a smaller supplier: sometimes companies will get a special grant for rural broadband roll-out. Ask about to see if any smaller organisations will be willing to support you.

Compare broadband deals

Although broadband provider options are usually more limited in rural areas, it’s still worth checking to see what’s available to you. 

We’ve made it really simple with our broadband comparison service. Just tell us where your postcode and we’ll show you a list of available deals and you can choose the best one for you.

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