Should 4G be seen as a substitute for fixed broadband? header image

There's a massive buzz in the telecoms world around 4G at the moment. Here in the UK, each of the big four mobile operators - EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone - have started rolling out ambitious infrastructure upgrades in order to provide their own Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks to customers.

The biggest benefit of 4G is that it makes using mobile devices to browse the internet on the go much faster. Thanks to these high-bandwidth services, people with smartphones and other SIM-enabled gadgets can stream video, shop online and transfer documents as quickly as if they were on a superfast broadband line.

However, the big four operators aren't content to sell the service to mobile users alone. They're now trying to promote LTE as a substitute for fixed-line broadband in the UK's more remote regions, tapping into the discontent caused by the government's slow, patchy rural broadband rollout.

EE, which launched the country's first 4G service in 2012, is at the forefront of this development. It recently announced plans to expand its LTE network to a further 2,500-plus villages and small towns in England, Scotland and Wales, including some with populations of fewer than 100 people.

Olaf Swantee, the company's chief executive, said it was working to "make 4G available where it matters most, with a focus on more rural areas".

Earlier this month, however, a number of campaigning groups that advocate better coverage in remote regions spoke out against the trend for operators to promote LTE as a solution to the rural broadband problem.

In an interview with Cable.co.uk, a spokesperson for one charity argued 4G is only "one of a mixture of options that people can use to get online".

The biggest worry is that with operators making a noise about how their services are widely available in rural areas, the likes of EE and Vodafone could drown out calls for other options - damaging competition in an area that is increasingly seen as a necessity, not a nicety.

This is a problem, because although today's 4G data plans are appropriately priced for mobile use, they're disadvantageous to consumers as an alternative to fixed-line broadband.

In many cases, operators are selling entry-level bundles that offer as little as 1GB in bandwidth per month. This might be enough for basic browsing and email, but users who want to make the most of what the internet has to offer will soon exceed the cap and end up paying extra.

Take TV and film streaming, for example, which has become extremely popular in the past year or so. On its lowest quality setting, Netflix consumes 0.3GB of bandwidth per hour. With a 1GB data plan, a subscriber would only be able to watch a few episodes of TV or a couple of films before hitting their cap.

For people in remote regions, satellite broadband represents a much better substitute to fixed-line services than LTE. With Avonline, subscribers enjoy generous bandwidth bundles and high speeds regardless of where they're located. Why not talk to us about setting up your dish today?