Farmer creates his own rural 4G hotspot

A Wiltshire farmer – who believes that 4G holds the answer to slow fixed line broadband connections in rural areas – has created his own 4G hotspot providing speeds of up to 69 Mbps.

Rural 4G in Cumbria

Richard Guy was fed up with the slow fixed line broadband connection speeds he was getting from BT, which were typically around 1 Mbps. First he tested out a satellite system, to no avail, but he did discover that the 4G signal from the nearest mast was surprisingly good. Unfortunately the area with strong 4G signal was quite some distance from his house.

Using Ofcom’s mobile network mast website and a simple 4G dongle, he found the point of strongest reception on his land, and used his telehandler to erect his own small mast. He fitted a waterproof box three quarters of the way up the pole into which he could place the dongle. The dongle uses a 12v battery rather than mains electricity and this it topped up using a small solar panel. Finally he installed a relatively cheap fibre-optic wire to allow the converted signal to travel to his house.

The results have been impressive. Rather than the paltry 1 Mbps that Mr Guy could achieve with BT fixed line broadband, he now gets connection speeds of between 45 Mbps and 69 Mbps. The experiment was such a success that the farmer is now offering a set up service to other farmers under the name Agri-Broadband.

Rural connection a contentious issue

The speed of fixed line broadband and the availability of mobile internet is a big issue in rural areas, and a series of hustings hosted by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) suggested that mobile phone coverage and faster broadband were key rural issues in the recent election.

According to Henry Robinson, CLA president, “Delivering mobile phone and internet coverage that actually meets the needs of rural business and communities has been singled out as a priority at every one of our hustings events. Prospective MPs have been left in no doubt that we expect them to keep up the pressure for better access to efficient, reliable and affordable rural broadband. Everyone agrees that rural communities should get this, but local MPs will have a key role to play in ensuring coverage is delivered.”

Rural broadband rollout controversy

The BT rollout of broadband in rural areas has come under fire from many sources. In January a National Audit Office report claimed it would cost £92 million less to roll out broadband than BT had originally quoted. While this sounds like good news, Margaret Hodge, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said, “It is very concerning that it looks like BT could have abused its dominant position in the market by vastly overestimating forecast costs in the first place when it put in its original bid, and we also have broader concerns about whether the deal represents value for money.”

This week a group of MPs from various parties have formed a parliamentary group to investigate the roll out of BT’s superfast broadband in the South West, which is expected to miss its target of 95% connection by 2017.

4G providers have been saying for some time that 4G presents an effective alternative to fixed line broadband in rural areas, and with all the controversy surrounding the BT roll out it may be time to follow the Wiltshire farmer’s lead and start investigating this possibility.