The major 4G network providers have largely been focussing on big cities for their 4G rollouts. However, one of the major issues in the UK is the provision of adequate internet access in rural areas, and EE has begun to address this by introducing 4G in Cumbria. Following initial trials in the Threlkeld area of the Lake District, EE has now switched on 4G services for around 2,600 homes and businesses in the Northern Fells.
The network is currently being tested by EE, and mobile internet packages for homes and businesses in this area will be available from 6th December 2013. Packages will be available at EE stores in Kendal, Carlisle and Workington, as well as online. An initial offer means that residents and businesses will be able to sign up for 20GB data at £25 per month, which will increase to £30 per month in February 2014. Connection will be via a Huawei B593 router, and additional data packages are available. EE are aiming to roll out 4G to the rest of Cumbria, which is home to around half a million people, by the end of March 2014.
In a previous article we looked at the problems around rolling out fibre optic broadband in rural areas, and the suggestion that 4G mobile networks might provide a more cost effective solution. It seems that Mal Hilton, Chairman of the Northern Fells Broadband Group agrees with this approach:
“We have been working for the past three years to ensure rural parishes in this area of Cumbria do not miss out on the high speed broadband developments that are taking place across the UK. It has been a frustrating time and most commercial companies have demonstrated a complete lack of interest. For the residents of the northern fells this is a significant milestone in the journey towards a complete superfast broadband service and one we welcome wholeheartedly.”
This part of Cumbria was chosen by EE for their rural 4G trails, as it is one of the most isolated areas of the UK for broadband connection. The county received a large government grant to improve broadband services, and has signed an agreement with BT to improve the fixed line broadband, but it now seems that 4G may provide a cheaper alternative.
During the trial EE reported that users in the Threlkeld area were experiencing average download speeds of 24Mbps. They are being more conservative with their estimates for other parts of the Northern Fells, suggesting that users should experience average download speeds of 8-12Mbps, depending on their exact location.
It seems that this development has brought the Northern Fells Broadband Group one step closer to their goal, which is explained on their website:
“Super Fast Broadband is as important to rural areas as Electricity and Water. It is vital that this community has access to a level of service which will shortly become universally available in urban areas in the UK. Our aim is to identify and implement an effective Super Fast Broadband solution for the benefit of every household and business within the parishes of the Northern Fells area.”