What are our alternatives to BT broadband down the phone line?

It seems that some rural communities, hamlets, farm businesses may never get modern broadband down the phone line for the reasons set out in my recent article.  And we are on notice in connect8 from BT and OCC that we may well be in the last 2% that get written off.  What are the other options?  Are there other companies who could help using different, cheaper broadband technology?

The other technologies are all radio based – ie radio waves transmit the broadband to and from your house or business like your TV or satellite or phone signal.  I know that many local people can’t get a mobile phone signal but there are sometimes ways of tackling that, which I explain below.

Microwave

Not the oven, but set of radio frequencies from which the oven got its name.

Connect8 has approached a company called AB Internet that delivers high speed internet by radio to see if they can use a local radio mast to provide broadband using microwave frequencies in the area.  This means no wiring to people’s homes, just a box on the wall outside which should be possible without planning permission.  They can deliver quite high speeds this way both up and download.  When looking at the website don’t be misled by the coverage checker, they also sell satellite.  There is also a company in rural Kent using similar technology.  We would probably have to deliver a certain number of subscribers to make this possible.  AB Internet is doing a survey and business case for us as we speak, promised in late January.

There are two good local companies that use slower technologies.  Countryside Broadband  in Woodcote use microwave to provide 10 mB/s to the surrounding area.  When I moved to Britwell Hill we asked them if they would extend to us but they had no plans – we shall check back to see if a bigger bloc of customers could persuade them to move.  Over in Bucks is Village Networks with a focus on Hambleden.  Their standard service is 5mbs download.

There also seems to be something going on in rural Kent where perhaps the council is more imaginative than OCC in rural areas.  There are two companies there i mean to check out Callflow and vFast.

For all three of the microwave services they would need three things:

a mast with power supply to transmit from, preferably for free or at a reduced rate (it would be great if space on the police masts at Britwell Hill could be offered by Thames Valley Police as a community contribution or MOD at the Christmas Common microwave tower)

connection back to the national telecoms network, known in the trade as ‘backhaul’  (something we lack at local masts) and

enough guaranteed customers to make it worth their while investing.

BT doesn’t really have a microwave product it can offer consumers, but, if BT buys ee it could try out some of the technologies they have in trial.

3G and 4G

A small external aerial can transform your ability to receive 3G and 4G.  The aerial then plugs into a router that provides you with wifi and Ethernet ports.  I have a Poynting antenna (about £80) and one of these Huawei 4g/3G modem routers (£140) with an ee 4G sim.  If someone can pick up a 3G or 4G signal say in your garden or the street outside your house or across the road but you can’t get it in your house then this sort of set up could work for you.  I don’t get a 4G nor 3G signal in the house on my iPhone, but I do 50metres away in the field.  The antenna on the side of the house picks this up and gives me four bars out of five on ee4G, coming from somewhere on the plain.  But you need to experiment with the aerial and SIM cards from different networks.  And be wary of data caps.  I find it can also be a bit weather dependent.

With less fuss a WIBE can be as good – an easy to use 3G signal booster – it’s the size of a large coffee jar, has all highly sensitive the antenna inside the box and simply provides you with wifi from 3G. You just plug it in , pop a SIM in and off you go.  I understand a 4G version is in development.  This is good but not as good as an external aerial – WIBE do make an external version.

3G and 4G solutions if you can pick them up will work off the current network. So, if it works for you is ready to go. And both the above tend to pick up signals where you don’t think one exists.

Satellite

Satellite broadband is a mixed bag – you need a dish and it provides good download speeds for watching iplayer, software updates, etc.  But it is fairly hopeless at uploading stuff which is important for two way skype, video skype, google hangout, playing computer games etc.  It can be expensive too.  There is a good ‘hybrid’ service from Onwave which can use a weak DSL line and the satellite and pair them together.  But again is expensive. I have Onwave hybrid as my main connection and it works well when you know its limitations.

Dig your own

In the Lake District the B4RN (broadband for the rural North) project, even more isolated than our hills has taken matters into their own hands and dug their own trenches, set up their own internet service provider and laid their own fibre.   We may yet get to this – but it’s possible that a strategic bit of work by a local farmer with a mole drainer and some ducting could make a connection viable at some point – maybe connecting a mast or short cutting across a field instead of following the roads.

That’s it for now – if you have any questions please drop me a line (william at cankfarm.com).  It isn’t just about the technology of course but also the business model and affordability for us as a community – on which i shall write more shortly.

About William Perrin

Active in Kings Cross London and South Oxfordshire, founder of Talk About Local, helping people find a voice online and a trustee of The Indigo Trust , Good Things Foundation and ThreeSixtyGiving as well as Connect8.
This entry was posted in Britwell Hill, Cookley Green, Greenfield, Howe Hill, Maidensgrove, Park Corner, Pishill with Stonor, Russells Water, Swyncombe, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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