By Dave Millett, from independent telecoms brokerage Equinox
Despite living in a country with the world’s fifth highest GDP it can feel at times as though our telecoms infrastructure, especially in rural areas, has barely advanced since the dark ages. Rural businesses suffer from the unholy trinity of no phone coverage, no or very slow broadband and the expense of running in dedicated services.
So if you run a small business in a rural area – what are your options?
In 2011 the government set up the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, with the aim of bringing superfast broadband to 95% of the country by 2017. That missing 5% represents 1.25 million homes.
Small fibre and Wimax providers are popping up throughout the country. The fibre providers offer speeds of up to 1Gb, and because they’re pure fibre, there’s no need for a landline – but they’re incredibly restricted in terms of availability.
You can find what is going on in your county via https://www.cable.co.uk/guides/rural-broadband/
Businesses may look at dedicated lines as they guarantee speeds. The problem is that, unlike standard broadband, pricing is distance dependent. A small business in a remote part of Wales found the best price was over £1,000 a month for a 10mb circuit. The Government has announced some planned help for businesses in rural areas but full details are yet to emerge.
All the networks offer online checkers of their coverage which is worth consulting as they all have stronger and weaker areas. Again, the UK claims 95% coverage – leave over 1.25million premises without coverage. One step Ofcom and the Government could take to improve rural coverage is to force the networks to allow free roaming within the UK. From July 1st you will be able to roam free in Europe but not in the UK. The networks have so far resisted this step.
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, the network provider will usually give you a booster for free if you push them and tell them you are leaving as they are not meeting their commitments.
If you don’t have a phone line at your premises then BT (and Kingston Communications in Hull) are required to install lines at the standard price even it involves extra costs. But there is a catch; 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.
But beware; a business client of ours was recently planning to relocate to Scotland – the property they intended to buy was about one mile from the highway. The current owners used satellite but we discovered that the property was close enough to a BT cabinet to get fibre broadband. So far so good – all that needs to be done is put a phone line in. Based on the BT installation price list (which anyone can access here: http://www.bt.com/pricing/current/Excess_Construction_boo/2-1319_d0e1.htm ) the cost was going to be about £20k. BT’s £3,400 hardly makes a dent in that and leave the cost prohibitive for a small business.
For our client moving to Scotland, their only option is to continue to use satellite for their business, and rely on their mobile signal rather than a landline. The good news is that the costs of satellite broadband have now come down to under £100 a month.
In summary, the choices still remain relatively restricted for most rural businesses but it does pay to explore all the options. A high percentage of people have not opted in for fibre broadband even when it is available. It is important to check its availability regularly and check the mobile coverage maps as networks are changing where they offer service.
ABOUT DAVE MILLETT
Dave Millett has over 35 years’ experience in the Telecoms Industry. He has worked in European Director roles for several global companies. He now runs Equinox, a leading independent brokerage and consultancy firm. He works with many companies, charities and other organisations and has helped them achieve savings of up to 80%. He also regularly advises telecom suppliers on improving their products and propositions. www.equinoxcomms.co.uk