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Guide to rural broadband

Country life has many advantages, but broadband speed may not be one of them. Find out why rural broadband is often frustratingly slow and get some solutions for enjoying better broadband connectivity if you live out in the sticks.

Country life has many advantages, but broadband speed may not be one of them. Find out why rural broadband is often frustratingly slow and get some solutions for enjoying better broadband connectivity if you live out in the sticks.

Written by
Sajni Shah
Utilities comparison expert
Last Updated
1 JUNE 2023
9 min read
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Why is rural broadband so slow

Broadband is notorious for being slow in rural and remote areas, although it is getting better. One reason for slow speeds is the infrastructure. Rural homes and businesses are typically more difficult and expensive to reach, so towns and cities tend to be better served by broadband providers.

Rural 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, rural broadband speeds are often a fraction of those quoted. And as most broadband lines still use old copper wiring for at least part of the data journey, this can affect speed too.

Find out how fast your rural broadband actually is by using our broadband connection speed test.

What upgrades are being made to rural internet?

Superfast broadband, with advertised download speeds of more than 30 megabits per second (Mbps), is now available to 97% of UK homes and businesses.

However, 61,000 UK premises still can’t access a decent fixed broadband service with download speeds of at least 10 Mbps.

Change is happening, though. Through its Project Gigabit initiative, the Government is committed to investing £5 billion to subsidise the costs of building gigabit-capable broadband networks in hard-to-reach areas. As of December 2023, 78% of UK homes had access to gigabit speeds.

If you’ve been on the same broadband deal for a while, it’s always worth checking if there’s a faster connection now available to you

As of September 2022, 70% of UK homes had access to gigabit speeds. But while 76% of all urban homes in the UK can access gigabit-capable broadband, only 37% of rural homes can do so. Faster broadband for rural areas is coming, but you may have to be patient.

If you’ve been on the same broadband deal for a while, it’s always worth checking if there’s a faster connection now available to you.

Did you know…? 

Superfast broadband is typically defined as having download speeds of 30 Mbps. That’s enough to download a song in just a few seconds. It’s mainly delivered by fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) connections.

Ultrafast broadband usually refers to a connection with download speeds of 300 Mbps or more. You could get ultrafast speeds with fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband connections.

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 the latest versions of the full fibre or coaxial cables that go right to your home. In future, it will potentially be delivered by 5G broadband technology.

What broadband services are available in rural areas?

Several types of broadband are available in rural areas. However, the exact choice you get will depend on the infrastructure and broadband providers who operate in your area. Options may include:

ADSL broadband

ADSL broadband, also known as standard broadband, uses the network of traditional copper phone lines to connect homes to the internet. Although it may have once been the most common broadband connection in the UK, it’s gradually being replaced with fibre and retired from service.

Standard fibre broadband

Fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband uses a combination of fibre and traditional copper phone lines. Fast fibre cables run to street cabinets from the telephone exchange, with copper wiring covering the rest of the connection to your home. 

The further the data has to travel along the phone lines, the slower it gets. That means rural areas tend to be the worst affected, as homes are typically further from the cabinet.

Full fibre broadband

With fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband, also known as full fibre broadband, you won’t experience a drop in performance over distance because fibre-optic cables carry the data all the way to your home.

You can potentially get ultrafast 1 Gbps download speeds, although full fibre is not yet widely available in rural areas. To see when it will be, you can check the Openreach map tool.

Fixed wireless broadband

This is where a wireless transmitter is installed somewhere high up, like a church spire, in a rural neighbourhood. The antenna relays radio signals to receivers placed on homes in sight of the main mast.

Fixed wireless broadband is usually only offered by small local providers.

Mobile broadband

Mobile broadband may be an option if you’re living in a rural area lacking in infrastructure. Because you’re eliminating the need for a cable or fibre connection altogether, you’ll need good mobile phone reception.

Mobile broadband runs on the same 4G and 5G networks as your phone, and is accessed via a wireless router, dongle, MiFi device or data-only SIM.

Satellite broadband

With satellite broadband, the connection is supplied through a satellite dish. Installation costs can be high, but as long as the dish has a clear line of sight to the satellite, you should be able to get a decent connection from virtually anywhere.

How to improve broadband speed in rural areas

If you’re wondering how to get fast broadband, you may be able to get together with other people in your neighbourhood to lobby for faster rural broadband services.

Fibre Community Partnerships can help you find out whether there’s a project in your area. If there isn’t, they can help you start your own community group. Find more information on community broadband projects on the Fibre Community Partnerships website.

How else can I access fast broadband?

  • Take advantage of the rural gigabit broadband voucher scheme. Eligible residents and businesses could claim vouchers towards the cost of installing gigabit-capable broadband connections, as part of the Government’s Project Gigabit initiative.
  • Request an upgrade. Don’t have access to rural broadband delivering 10Mbps download speeds or more? You may be able to request a faster connection. Under the Broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO), every home and business in the UK has the legal right to request a decent, affordable broadband connection.
  • 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.
  • 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 for ideas of how to get internet in rural areas, you could visit your local library or cafe and make use of their free public WiFi. Accessing public rural WiFi may not be a long-term solution, but it could help in the meantime. Only visit HTTPS sites (the ‘s’ stands for secure) though.

How do I get the best broadband for rural areas?

Although rural internet options from broadband providers are usually more limited, 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 offering the best broadband speed for rural areas.

Find broadband deals.

Frequently asked questions

How do I get full fibre broadband in my area?

A growing number of providers now offer full fibre broadband in rural areas. This delivers the internet straight to your home without relying on old copper wiring. It’s capable of producing speeds of up to 1 Gbps.   
 
The main fibre provider in the UK is Openreach. Smaller providers that are local to you may also offer full fibre services. 

Which providers offer rural broadband?

Several big-name providers offer rural broadband via the Openreach network, including BT, Sky and TalkTalk. But you’ll often find that smaller local providers are at the forefront of delivering ultrafast rural broadband.  
 
Gigaclear, for instance, offers some of the fastest broadband speeds in the UK in rural locations in the South West, Midlands and South East. Elsewhere, B4RN focuses on northern communities, while Broadway Broadband covers Wales and Scotland. 

How can I improve my internet speed if I live in a rural location?

There’s a few things you can try to boost your broadband speed without having to change provider: 

  • Don’t have too many devices running on WiFi at the same time
  • Move your router to a central position away from thick walls and other electrical devices
  • Place your router on a raised surface like a table or shelf, rather than the floor.

If none of that works, it might be time to look at other options. Firstly, see if there are any full fibre services available, then investigate 4G or 5G home broadband, or even satellite broadband.  

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Sajni Shah - Consumer expert on utilities and money

Sajni is passionate about building products, allowing Compare the Market to help you make great financial decisions. She keeps track of the latest trends and evolving markets to find new ways to help you save money.

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