Imagine starting work in the morning only to find that your Internet connection is wobbling in and out. Worst still your phone rings but you can’t hear your customer. Even walking to the far corner of your garden and standing on a bench doesn’t get you the signal you need. Some of you will be thinking “welcome to my world”. Others may be wondering if starting a rural-based business will prove more stressful than city commuting. The reality is that there is a telecoms postcode lottery. The big questions are: can existing rural business get a better telecoms deal? And can wannabe rural entrepreneurs find locations with telecoms that will support their business development?
Lord Adonis, head of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) reported last year on the problems of mobile signal coverage and suggested that in the UK we should aim to achieve 5G coverage by 2025. This is big change for those of us desperate for 2G now and also a long time to wait.
The telecoms companies like to quote their favourite ‘95% of premises’ statistic of coverage. At present this leaves the 1.25 million homes without a signal and many with poor or unreliable signals. The industry concedes that over a third of the geographic land mass of the country has zero coverage.
What options do you have to gain improvements today?
Use the online checkers provided by the networks. They all have stronger and weaker coverage areas. Switch networks if you need to. Perhaps you can encourage you MP to lobby for free roaming within the UK. We will have this in Europe from 1st July so why not here as well? It would certainly reduce the number of mobile signal not-spots.
Also, there are boosters that can be plugged into broadband, assuming of course you have one that is fast enough, to improve the signal. If the coverage maps say you should get indoor service and are not, your network provider will usually you a booster for free . You may need to give them a push and imply you will leave them as they are failing to meet their commitments.
When you realise the country, as a whole, rates 54th in the world for 4G coverage behind Peru and Albania and is at the bottom of Europe for Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) it is perhaps no surprise that rural areas suffer badly. It may surprise you to know that compared to businesses in cities and on business parks they have done better with fibre broadband Internet access.
If you run a rural business you need superfast broadband. The government says it wants to help you achieve this and in 2011 it set up the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, with the aim of bringing superfast broadband to 95% of the country by 2017.
The problem with the government’s approach is the definition of “superfast” as an internet connection of 24Mbps or above. In almost every other country the definition is 100mbps or 250 mbps. In the UK today we have approximately 2% coverage at 100mbps. So we have a long way to go for truly superfast broadband that will meet the needs to other evolving technology.
Some help is being provided by small fibre and Wimax providers which are popping up across the country. The fibre providers offer speeds of up to 1Gb, and because they're pure fibre, there's no need for a landline. Of course the availability is limited at present. Where they are available both offer ultrafast connections, and for reasonably competitive prices, but they're limited to a fairly small number of buildings or developments each.
Small villages with poor broadband are being supported by small ISPs like LN Communications and B4RN. Others only supply certain towns, like Gigler in Bournemouth. You can find what is happening in your area here.
A further option for businesses to guarantee speeds is to investigate having a dedicated line. You may find this is a viable expense. However the pricing is dependent on distance so it can be mind-bogglingly expensive. For example I know one small business in a remote part of Wales which found the best price was over £1,000 a month for a 10mb circuit. If you think this option might work for you option check out which supplier has the nearest network. It can mean a difference of more than 50% in price. The Government has announced some planned help for businesses in these areas but full details are yet to emerge.
Can you run your business without a landline? If your mobile signal is reliable maybe but it is not ideal. Luckily BT and Kingston Communications (Hull) are required to install lines to premises currently without them at the standard price ( even it involves extra costs). Not surprising there is a catch that can be expensive. The extra costs up to £3,400 for phone lines and £1,000 for ISDN2 connections excluding VAT are free - above that the customer has to pay. You can see how the charges are built up here.
A client of ours was recently planning to relocate to a charming spot in rural Scotland – the building was less than 2kms from the main road. The price turned out to be in the region of £22k.
Our client didn’t want to spend this amount of money and decided to use satellite broadband and rely on mobile phones. It’s helpful that costs of satellite broadband have come down below £100 a month. Although usage is capped and streaming films could be expensive, it does mean it’s affordable for most businesses.
What conclusion can we draw? As a rural business your choices still remain restricted but it worth exploring all the options. You need to keep checking availability regularly and also check the mobile coverage maps. Networks are changing where they offer service. For existing businesses your world will not be changing dramatically anytime soon. However, for those wanting to relocate to the countryside the message is clear. Do your research and be open to more than one location so you can get the services you need.
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