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4G Might Not Work as a Substitute for Fixed Broadband in Rural Areas

Saturday, Feb 16th, 2013 (6:42 am) - Score 2,641

Consultancy group Analysys Mason has warned that the UK government’s plan to make faster 4G (LTE) based Mobile Broadband services available to “at least 98%” of the country by the end of 2017 may not work as a viable “replacement” for slower legacy copper based fixed line services in rural areas.

The analyst notes that fixed Internet traffic growth will be faster than mobile data traffic growth in many countries, which is partly to do with the lower cost of adding more capacity, faster service speeds and the growing impact of broadband based TV (IPTV) and video streaming services.

fixed vs mobile internet traffic growth in western europe

But capacity costs and TV viewing will remain trickier aspects for the new generation of 4G mobile services to tackle and in particular the consultancy notes that, “there is no reason why rural users would want to consume less than their urban counterparts“.

A Spokesperson for Analysys Mason said:

It is important that operators and policymakers pay attention to expected traffic levels as well as headline access speeds when they assess the viability of replacing legacy copper with LTE in less profitable areas. Rural customers are not the same as people that elect to take a mobile broadband service as a replacement for a fixed one, and there is no reason why rural users would want to consume less than their urban counterparts.

Mobile broadband speeds are directly related to the number of users on the network. Doubling the capacity on mobile networks can mean near-doubling of costs, particularly if it means new site acquisitions. Next-generation fixed networks are initially more expensive to roll out, but doubling capacity to any NGA network is relatively inexpensive. The stronger the fixed traffic growth, the stronger the case for fixed networks in the final-third NGA mix, or, alternatively, the stronger the case for more radical approaches to spectrum (such as pooling) in the final third.”

In other words using mobile services to reach new areas, while useful, is perhaps not a total solution and rapid growth in internet traffic should also be reflected both in policy as well as in the commercial roll-out. Mobile services are improving but related data capacity is still comparatively expensive and by itself could struggle to keep up with rising levels of demand. Lest we not forget the steeper requirements of business providers too.

On the other hand not everybody wants IPTV services or huge downloads and in that respect many people will be perfectly happy to get a few more megabits via a 4G link instead of a potentially slower fixed line solution.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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