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Can you get fit-for-purpose business telecoms in rural areas?

Despite living in a country with the world’s fifth highest GDP it can feel at times as though our telecoms in rural areas barely advanced since the dark ages.
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Businesses outside London suffer from the unholy trinity of no phone coverage, no or very slow broadband and the expense of running in dedicated services. So how bad are telecoms in rural areas really, and what, if any, are the options?

Internet

In 2011 the government set up the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, with the aim of bringing superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the country by 2017. That missing five per cent represents 1.25m homes.

Small fibre and Wimax providers are popping up throughout the country. Fibre providers offer speeds of up to 1Gb, and because it’s pure fibre, there’s no need for a landline – but it’s incredibly restricted in terms of availability. More information on this issue, especially when it comes to telecoms in rural areas, can be found here.

In the end, 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.

Mobile

All networks offer online checkers of their coverage which is worth consulting as they all have stronger and weaker areas. Again, the UK claims 95 per cent coverage – leaving over 1.25m premises without coverage. One step Ofcom and the government could take to improve telecoms in rural areas is to allow free roaming within the UK. From 1 July 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 announce you are leaving if commitments aren’t being met.

Phone lines

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.

Beware; a client of ours was recently planning to relocate to Scotland – the property the boss intended to buy was about one mile from the highway. The current owners used satellite but we discovered 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) the cost was going to be about £20k. BT’s £3,400 hardly makes a dent in that and leaves the cost prohibitive for a small business.

For our client moving to Scotland, the only option is to continue to use satellite, and rely on the 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.

Dave Millett runs independent telecoms brokerage Equinox and regularly advises telecom suppliers on improving products and propositions

This article is part of our Real Business Broadband campaign, which seeks to provide a mouthpiece for business leaders to vocalise the broadband issues preventing their businesses from reaching full potential. We’d love to hear your take on the debate and where you think the UK needs to make drastic changes – and feel to ask us your broadband queries. Get in touch via email (shane.schutte@realbusiness.co.uk) or join in on the action using #rbBroadband.

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