BT-owned mobile operator EE is trying out a rural 4G network that will compete in speed with fibre.
The company says it has achieved speeds of over 100Mbps in a trial in Cumbria in north-west England and believes there is a market for 580,000 for the service.
Max Taylor, the company’s managing director of marketing, said that with the unit – a broadband antenna and home router – “thousands of families in rural areas across the UK could enjoy the benefits of superfast broadband inside their home for the very first time”.
The company is offering the service in a range of bundles, starting at £25 for 10GB a month through to £60 for 200GB a month. EE will charge £99.99 up front for a 30-day contract but nothing for the router on 18-month contracts.
According to EE, the device is made by Panorama Antennas, a south-west London company that says it was founded in 1947 and is “a family business now in its third generation and a leading designer and manufacturer of antennas for radio communication”.
EE said that many homes in rural Cumbria can get only limited broadband access, and it has been working with the Northern Fells Broadband initiative to try out the service with users in the area.
Mal Hilton, chairman of the initiative, said: “This new service from EE is going to help households in some of the most isolated areas of Cumbria – areas where residents simply cannot and may never receive fibre connectivity. It is going to radically change the lives of people in this community. With fast and reliable home internet for the very first time, they can now function like everybody else in the UK.”
Local MP Rory Stewart, who has long campaigned for better rural broadband, welcomed the move. “What EE is doing is transformative. One of the real challenges is getting fixed fibre into people’s houses because they are so sparsely populated in rural areas. The great thing about EE’s new solution though is that it’s wireless – allowing people to get superfast home broadband via 4G. As the number of new mobile masts continue to roll out, more and more areas of Cumbria will come online. With access to fast broadband, people’s lives really will be transformed.”
EE’s said that the service combines a home router with a powerful external antenna and professional installation service. It will connect up to 32 devices at once.
It “has been designed specifically as an alternative for those in rural communities that have yet to be connected with traditional fixed line broadband access – or where customers can only receive slower fixed broadband speeds”, said the company.
Alastair Masson, head of telco media at NTT Data, welcomed the move from EE, but warned: “This will be a huge challenge, and take significant investment but is also a hugely positive step in the right direction. As a result, it mustn’t rest on the shoulders of EE alone.”
He added: “For the rollout to be a success, industry leaders including mobile operators, the government and regulators must collaborate. Equally, a combination of government and private financial support is required, as is a mixed economy of connectivity.”