Superfast Broadband and Rural 4G Broadband

BROADBAND UNIVERSAL SERVICE OBLIGATION – CONSULTATION

The Government legislated in the Digital Economy Act 2017 to enable the creation of a new broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO), giving every household and business the right to request a broadband connection at a minimum speed, up to a reasonable cost threshold – no matter where they live or work.  It is now seeking views on the specification for the USO that would be set in secondary legislation..

The consultation document and how to respond can be read by clicking here.  Both individuals and organisations are eligible to respond and should do so by 9th October 2017.

What’s my best Broadband option in Minstead?

As of 6th July 2016 Minstead’s (green) phone cabinet located near the A31 was updated to support Fibre-To-The-Cabinet (FTTC) which is much faster than the older ADSL technology for houses within 1km or so of the cabinet.

Existing ADSL users should contact your provider of choice if you wish to arrange for your connection to be upgraded if feasible.

Note that some providers will offer FTTC with speeds of < 10Mb/s which implies you’re right at the limit of range for this type of solution. Minstead residents living near Stoney Cross and New Town have been offered FTTC and have had to subsequently get it removed as it either didn’t work, was unreliable or was in fact slower than ADSL.

To check what speeds you can expect from ADSL vs the new Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) service those with BT land lines can enter their number into http://www.dslchecker.bt.com/adsl/ADSLChecker.TelephoneNumberOutput. See a screenshot below for this check for a typical Newtown phone number which shows FTTC  is actually likely to be the same speed as the older ADSL service. Use the row marked “FTTC Range B (Impacted)” as this reflects the effect of copper cables between the Cabinet and your premises.

BT Broadband Speed Check Results FTTC

If you live within an area of the village that has decent FTTC speeds 10Mb/s+ e.g. near the Trusty Servant or closer to the Village Hall then this is definitely the fastest and most cost effective solution.

For those living outside the range of FTTC with poor < 2Mb/s ADSL speeds then an alternative option is probably using 4G as described below.

Using 4G for Superfast Broadband

by Shaun B ( Newtown/Woodside area )

Before reading it please be aware that while I have had to select and mention particular vendors  the Disclaimer for this site applies – see Disclaimer – in that references to providers or products is in no way endorsing them.

As of August 2015  Vodafone, EE and O2 have decent 4G signal coverage in most parts of Minstead.  As an illustration of 4G, comparative speeds of 4G vs ADSL for residents in Feb 2015 below:

  • Woodside resident – 2 Mb/s via ADSL, 25 to 40 Mb/s via 4G
  • New Town resident – 0.5 Mb/s via ADSL, 15 to 20 Mb/s via 4G
  • Village centre resident – 1 Mb/s via ADSL, 15 to 20 Mb/s via 4G

The BBC recommends circa 3Mb/s for HD iPlayer streaming. Netflix requires 5Mb/s for HD, and 25Mb/s for Ultra HD.

 

Minstead 4G Trial: January through March 2015

Various village residents took part in an extended trial using hardware kindly loaned to the village by DLink, Billion, TP Link and Draytek. The objective of the trial is to determine if 4G is good viable broadband option in terms of speed, reliability, cost and simplicity.

The outcome of the trial was that 4G delivered a ‘superfast’ broadband service for many residents reliably and for a running cost comparable to ADSL e.g. < £30 per month. The potential cons to using 4G are

  1. the one-off capital costs £100 to £200,
  2. the data limit which are too low for some users. Most 4G plans include of 20/30/40GB per month of data. You can setup 4G to use more than one dongle and therefore combine data packages to provide 100GB per month+, and
  3. you should ensure you get a 4G data plan which is capped e.g. if you reach the limit the operator does not start charging overages which can mean you’re paying £20 per GB instead of 50p per GB. This can result in a £10s or £100s of unexpected overages.

What kit do I need to use 4G for Home Broadband?

Using the 4G network for home broadband has now matured to a level that it’s offered as a out-of-the-box solution by some network operators like EE. Therefore for many users the simplest solution to use and install will be to subscribe to something like EE’s 4G Home Broadband.

4G Broadband Router

Alternatively you can purchase a combination of hardware to give you a little more flexibility e.g. supporting multiple dongles for more data allowance, or for better integration with existing routers or Wifi access points you may already have.

The hardware you need depends on how you want to use it. For those who just want to use a single laptop, then a 4G dongle may be sufficient. This takes a SIM card and can plug directly into your laptop.

Most people will want to share your 4G connection with multiple devices in the home, often via Wifi, and so you’ll typically need:

  • a 4G enabled Data SIM card (standard size – not micro or nano sized). These are not setup in the same way as normal phone SIMs so many SIMs won’t work in a dongle. The phone operator will send you this. This SIM must be associated with a 4G data plan.
  • a 4G dongle like the Vodafone K5150 or Huawei E3272. There are many others on the market.
  • a router which is compatible with your 4G dongle. See list of routers below.

4G Routers

The following table provides a short list of routers that worked well in the Minstead trial and their price at the time of the trial:

Make and Model
Dongle Support
Wifi Speed
Features
Cost
TP-Link TD-W8970K5150 and E3272 testedSupports N standard upto 300Mb/sNo load balancing or failover features.£36 from BroadbandBuyer
Draytek 2925K5150 and E3272 tested. Not fully compatible with the K5150.This model has no Wifi but the 2925n or 2925n+ models have good Wifi. See comparison of Draytek routers.Can failback to ADSL if 4G down.
User defined 4G and ADSL load balancing to control data usage
£177 from BroadbandBuyer. Significant discount available to Minstead residents - email admin@minstead.org.uk for details.
Draytek 2860Vn+K5150 and E3272 tested. Not fully compatible with the K5150.Dual band N standard
See comparison of Draytek routers.
Can failback to ADSL if 4G down. User defined 4G and ADSL load balancing to control data usage.£263 from BroadbandBuyer. Significant discount available to Minstead residents - email admin@minstead.org.uk for details.

There are many 4G routers on the market so the above is not intended to be exhaustive.

4G FAQs

So how much does it cost for a complete 4G home broadband setup?

The data plan and dongle costs will depend on the phone operator but can/should be comparable with normal BT Broadband at around £20 per month (which includes a dongle). Routers vary hugely depending on features from £35 to £230. See router comparison. We’re working to get some discounts for village residents which will minimise those costs – see contract offer below.

How much is a 4G contract, and how much data do I get?

This depends on the operator and plan you select and is coming down all the time. As of Aug 2017 the going rate is about 50p per GB of 4G data. See Vodafone 4G data plans (https://www.vodafone.co.uk/shop/mobile-broadband/dongles-and-mobile-wi-fi/) and those from EE (http://shop.ee.co.uk/mobile-tariffs/sim-only-data-plans).

I’ve heard 4G is not good for downloading large files or movies?

It is true that most ADSL broadband packages have a 50GB data limit per month. Those limits are lower with 4G (see contract offer above) but there are options to make the best use of that – see answer below on how to combine 4G with ADSL. Real usage has shown 4G is great for iPlayer, Netflix etc as long as your mindful of the data cap.

How can I boost the 4G signal if it’s not very strong?

Most dongles can plug into an external aerial like the one shown below. These are available for as little as £15.

4G Aerial

How can I make most efficient use of my 4G data?

Normal broadband usage involves web browsing, sending email, watching movies etc. Not all of those things need to happen ‘superfast’ – for example sending email doesn’t need 4G speeds, downloading apps for your phone doesn’t really need 4G speeds. Some of the higher end routers allow you combine your slow ADSL connection with your 4G connection to control what types of usage goes over each. For some that may mean 50% of usage is over 4G and  50% over ADSL. See the Router comparison table for the “User Defined Load Balancing” feature.

Can I combine my slow ADSL line with my fast 4G connection?

Yes with some routers, see the answer to the above question.

Can I put my phone SIM in my 4G dongle?

Probably not. During the trial we discovered the SIMs have been setup specifically for use with dongles otherwise things don’t work.

How can I check if I get 4G signal in my area?

Vodafone and O2 provide pretty accurate coverage checkers but if you send a request to be part of the 4G Trial as described above then we can come and do a 4G signal test with you.

How can I see the signal strength of my 4G dongle?

If you have the K5150 goto http://192.168.9.1. If you have the E3272 goto http://192.168.1.1. This will give you access to the connection status and signal strength etc.

Minstead Broadband Survey Results

If you’re interested in a summary of the Broadband history or the results of the recent Broadband survey the following PDF presentation may be useful titled “Minstead Broadband Status – Achieving Superfast Slowly – v1.1“.

Minstead Broadband Achieving Superfast...Slowly PDF Thumbnail

The Broadband Survey is now closed and was used to create the above presentation. We may reopen the survey when BT have enabled VDSL Superfast Broadband at our local cabinet.

Minstead Broadband Options

Minstead, as with many rural locations, is not particularly well served for Broadband today due to its distance from the (Cadnam) exchange. The broadband speeds achieved in Minstead village are generally relative to the premises distance from the BT cabinet which is located near the A31 exit e.g. those at the top end of the village achieve near 10 Mb/s where as those further afield at Newtown or Woodside are getting <  2 Mb. Clearly well below the speeds needed to enjoy many of the modern services like iPlayer, Netflix et al.

So as of November 2014 the common options for residents wanting access to the internet in Minstead are:

Method
Description
Typical Cost
Typical Limitations
Typical Speeds Achieved in Minstead
ADSL BroadbandProvided over the copper wire phone line by BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Zen etc all the way to the exchangeLow compared to other options < £20 per monthMost have some limit on GB used per month e.g. 50 GB per month and sometimes a capped maximum speed0.5 Mb/s to 10 Mb/s
FTTC BroadbandProvided over the copper wire phone line by BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Zen etc to the cabinet and then uses fibre to the exchange.Low compared to other options < £20 per monthMost have some limit on GB used per month e.g. 50 GB per month and sometimes a capped maximum speed5 Mb/s to 100 Mb/s
4GProvided over the air by telecom operators such as Vodafone, EE, and O2 to nearby phone masts. See more info below on a 4G trial in Minstead by the author.Medium - more than Broadband but typically less than SateliteSpeed is not generally capped but monthly GB usages are lower than Broadband limits e.g. 8GB. The limit varies across providers.up to 50 Mb/s with 30 Mb/s a reasonable average
SatelliteProvided by a new satellite dish (different and larger than a Sky dish) which connects to a satellite generally using the Tooway service from Avonline or Bentley Walker.High - often between £40 and £75 per monthCapped speed and monthly GB usage. Quoted as 20 Mb/s but the author's experience over 18 months of usage was that contention meant the service was < 1Mb/s at peak times. The higher latency means web browsing also feels slower than other solutions.
Lease LineA dedicated fibre optic cable is connected from your property to the nearest fibre connection point which could be 100ms aware. Lots of companies will provide this including BT, Virgin, Managed Comms etc.Very High - typically £1,000s to install and £100s per monthTypically speeds are up to 100 Mb/s without a GB limitAs fast as you want - typically 100 Mb/s

The above list is not intended to be exhaustive in terms of options or vendors. As per the disclaimer we make no recommendations as to the best option or vendor.