Broadband in rural areas

Although the Government is investing billions of pounds in improving connectivity, if you live in a rural area your broadband speeds may still be achingly slow. Find out why and get some solutions for enjoying better broadband for rural areas, in our guide.

Although the Government is investing billions of pounds in improving connectivity, if you live in a rural area your broadband speeds may still be achingly slow. Find out why and get some solutions for enjoying better broadband for rural areas, in our guide.

Holly Cox
Digital expert
minute read
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Posted 17 MAY 2021

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

Superfast broadband has been available to 95% of UK homes and businesses since September 2020. So, you might find there’s a faster connection now available to you.

However, in 5% of – mostly rural – areas, superfast broadband still isn’t available. A House of Commons report published in March 2021 estimated that 1.5 million premises still don’t have access to superfast speeds. And according to Ofcom, some 43,000 UK premises still can’t access a decent fixed broadband service.

Meanwhile, even faster gigabit broadband is being rolled out, typically in urban areas. As of September 2020, 27% of UK homes had access to gigabit speeds. But while 29% of all urban homes in the UK can access gigabit-capable broadband, only 17% of rural homes can do so.

The Government is committed to investing over £22 million to subsidise the costs of building gigabit-capable broadband networks in hard-to-reach areas, aiming to deliver gigabit-capable broadband throughout the UK by 2025. So faster broadband for rural areas is coming, but it may be a while yet.

Did you know…? 

Superfast broadband is defined as having download speeds of 30 megabits per second (Mbps) – enough to download a song in just a few seconds.

It’s mainly delivered by Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) connections. Fibre optic cables run to your street cabinet, then the broadband makes its way to your home via copper phonelines.

Gigabit-capable broadband offers download speeds of 1,000 Mbps. That’s fast enough to download an HD film in under a minute. It’s delivered by full fibre cables that go right to your home – and potentially, in future, by 5G technology.

Why are broadband speeds slower in rural areas?

Fifty-eight per cent of so-called hard-to-reach areas in the UK are in rural locations. Broadband is slower in these places, partly because of infrastructure. The roll-out of fibre optic cable has been slower in rural areas than urban ones.

Also, rural homes and businesses are typically more difficult and expensive to reach. Properties are likely to be some distance from street cabinets and telephone exchanges, from which broadband is delivered.

Broadband speed decreases the further it has to travel. Since 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: Connecting to broadband via mobile networks can be a decent alternative to phone lines, particularly with 4G and now 5G. However, the problem for many rural households is that you need a strong mobile signal and the download speeds can be slow. Plus, mobile broadband tends to be more expensive than fibre or fixed wireless packages.

Satellite broadband: All you need for this is a dish that can point towards a satellite. But even though prices have come down in recent years, there are still significant installation costs, restrictive data allowances and reports of poor performance (including downtime and ‘lags’).

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 is fast enough for small homes or less frequent broadband users.  

The maximum speed of ADSL1 is about 8Mbps, while ADSL2 can reach about 24Mbps. Again, the broadband speeds via both ADSL types will depend on how far you live from your telephone exchange. The closer you are, the faster your connection

Fibre broadband

Fibre-optic broadband is split into two categories: fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) and fibre to the premises (FTTP).  

The most common is an FTTC connection. This is where fibre-optic cables carry a very fast connection to your street cabinet, before transferring the signal 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 typically further from the cabinet. FTTC services typically promise speeds of up to 38Mbps or 75Mbps. 

A fibre to the premises (FTTP) connection isn’t affected by distance from the cabinet, 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. But their speeds are exceptionally high, offering up to 1 Gbps. To find out which type of connection you have, ask your current provider.

Cable broadband

Cable broadband uses fibre optic and coaxial copper cables to deliver superfast broadband. It’s most similar to a fibre to the premises (FTTP) connection. Its coaxial copper cables are much faster than the traditional copper phone lines used for an ADSL or fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) connection.

If you want cable, you’ll need to check that coverage is available in your area. Many parts of the UK still don't have access to this type of broadband.

Virgin Media is the largest broadband provider offering a cable service. At the moment, their cable network covers 55% of UK premises. Currently, cable can typically handle download speeds of up to 200Mbps.

Fixed wireless broadband vs. mobile wireless broadband

Most UK home internet connections run off a wireless broadband router, which allows you to access the internet from anywhere in your home. Wireless broadband comes in two types – fixed and mobile. It works by using radio waves to transmit signals and is operated by different providers. 

But if you’re living in a rural area, your connection may suffer. This could be because you live far from the fibre street cabinet, or you’re on an ADSL connection and have too many people in the house trying to access it at once.

If you’re struggling with speeds because you’re living in a rural area, you may want to consider a fixed wireless broadband connection. This type of access connects to an antenna, while mobile broadband relies on the mobile phone network.

Be aware that a fixed wireless connection may still struggle to reach all areas of the home, particularly if your home is built with thick stone walls. If this is the case, you could install multiple wireless routers to provide a stronger signal across different areas of the home. Or you could use a wired connection to guarantee more consistent performance.

Mobile broadband

Mobile broadband may be a great option if you’re living in a rural area because you’re eliminating the need for a cable connection altogether.

With 5G expanding and 4G mobile broadband set to be available to 95% of the UK by 2025, you may find that this offers a very workable option for your connection. And with the four mobile network operators (Vodafone, EE, Three and O2) providing widespread coverage, it can be easily accessible. 

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 should be able to get a decent connection from virtually anywhere in the world. All it needs is a clear line of sight to the satellite (south for the UK).

However, if your home doesn’t already have a satellite dish installed, the installation costs can be high. And even though technologies are improving, limitations include a longer response time and lower data capacity, when compared to the likes of fibre or cable connections.

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 providing download speeds of 10Mbps, 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. Community Fibre Partnerships 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 the Community Fibre Partnerships website.

You can also:

  • Take advantage of the rural gigabit broadband voucher scheme. Residents, and small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) could claim vouchers towards the cost of gigabit-capable connections. The voucher scheme ran until 31 March 2021, but a new scheme was launching on 8 April 2021. 
  • If you don’t have access to broadband delivering 10Mbps download speeds or more, you may be eligible to request a connection under the Broadband Universal Service Obligation.
  • 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 this to see if any smaller organisations will be willing to support you.
  • Make use of public WiFi. If you’re really stuck, you could visit your local library or café and make use of their free public WiFi. It may not be a long-term solution, but it could help in the meantime. To stay safe on these connections, be sure to visit only HTTPS sites (the ‘s’ stands for secure).

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 type in your postcode and we’ll show you a list of available deals so you can choose the right one for you.

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