BT-owned EE has unveiled a 4G router with an external antenna as a way to provide mobile internet to areas of the UK not connected by fixed line broadband.

A landline is not required to use the router and EE claims it can deliver download speeds over 100Mbps, 10 times higher than industry regulator Ofcom’s definition of decent broadband speed.

EE managing director of marketing Max Taylor said:

As our network continues to expand into some of the most remote parts of the UK, we’ve seen the amazing impact that 4G connectivity can have on rural communities.

Our newest 4G home broadband router and antenna takes this one step further, ensuring thousands of families in rural areas across the UK could enjoy the benefits of superfast broadband inside their home for the very first time – whether video-calling the grandparents or streaming their favourite TV series.

EE’s head of broadband Simon Till added:

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If your home has access to fixed broadband, then that would probably be the right choice, but if you can’t then this is an option…We’re in the business of providing connectivity to those that don’t have it.

Mobile broadband v Fixed line broadband:

In 2015, the British government announced its intention to implement a Universal Service Obligation (USO) which gives all UK citizens “the right to request an affordable broadband connection, at a minimum speed, from a designated provider, up to a reasonable cost threshold”.

The government pledged this would be delivered by 2020.

At the end of 2017, the British government announced it had reached its broadband coverage target of 95 percent across the whole of the UK.

In December 2017, Ofcom reported that 1.1m UK homes and businesses still do not have access to adequate broadband defined as 10Mbps with 17 percent of these in rural areas, compared to two percent in urban areas.

Positives of mobile broadband

It can be faster than fixed line broadband — its speed can reach fibre-optic levels.

Rural fibre-optic broadband has been successfully rolled out across the UK – Ofcom reported that the number of rural households with a so-called superfast connection increased by 15 percent between 2015 and 2016.

However, the copper wire used for the last stretch can slow things down. Mobile broadband would not rely on the copper wire.

EE’s 4G router is aided by EE having the quickest browsing and download speed of the UK networks, according to an Ofcom report in 2016.

Also, since mobile telecommunications companies are more used to offering short-term contracts to their mobile phone customers, they can also offer more flexible contracts to their mobile broadband customers.

Three’s minimum contract length for their mobile broadband HomeFi is one month and can be extended indefinitely.

Vodafone’s mobile Wi-Fi routers are available on pay-as-you-go or on pay monthly with a choice between a one-month or 12-month contract. EE’s 4G Mobile Router is available for an 18-month contract or 30-day plan if you pay £100 for the router.

BT only offer 18-month contracts for their broadband packages. Sky’s Fibre contracts are also only available for 18-months. The minimum contract length TalkTalk offer is 12 months.

Additionally, mobile broadband does not need a working phone line to work – which means consumers do not have to pay for a landline they don’t need.

Negatives of mobile broadband

Mobile broadband relies upon having a strong network signal and its performance is often unpredictable even where there is a strong signal because it is badly affected by network traffic and weather conditions.

It is also likely that areas which are too remote for broadband will also have poor 4G coverage, thus reducing the effectiveness of mobile networks to provide reliable home internet.

EE has responded to this evaluation by saying “our network reaches 90% of the UK… If you overlap our network with the homes that get less than 10Mbps fixed broadband, you get to about 580,000 homes that we could reach”.

It also seems that EE has tried to enhance the wifi strength from the device.

However, weather conditions and network traffic remain issues for 3G and 4G mobile broadband solutions, including EE’s 4G Home Router.

Another major problem with mobile broadband solutions is it costs more than cable alternatives and it often offers smaller data allowances.

EE’s basic package is a 10GB monthly allowance for £25 per month. Its most expensive package costs £60 a month for a 200GB monthly data allowance.

Simon Till at EE said: “EE’s home broadband customers typically used about 150GB a month.” Expert broadband news and information site, ThinkBroadband, estimates that 200GB would be sufficient for downloading 30 5GB films a month leaving 50GB for other activities such as software updates, web browsing and online banking.

This suggests that only the more costly packages are actually adequate to be used as primary home broadband source.

Sky’s most basic broadband package, Sky broadband unlimited, costs £28.99 a month and its most sophisticated package, Sky Fibre Max, costs £43.99. BT’s Unlimited Broadband is priced at £24.99 per month and Unlimited Infinity at £29.99. TalkTalk’s Unlimited Broadband costs £19.95 monthly and Unlimited Fibre Broadband costs £26.50.

What the experts say:

The Countryside Alliance has supported local campaign groups, lobbied the government and worked with communications companies to ensure the roll out of the USO across the whole of the UK.

Countryside Alliance head of policy, Sarah Lee, said:

Fast and reliable internet is just as essential in the countryside as it is in urban areas, but unfortunately it is not currently as widely available. This is a major issue for everyday life at home – students rely on a decent internet for research, parents need to bank online and thousands of rural families are missing out on a wealth of on-demand entertainment.

Fixed line broadband will not deliver the connectivity rural areas need or deserve which is why we believe we must embrace all technologies such as mobile and satellite. Mobile technology has the ability to bring high speed broadband to the countryside, we will continue to campaign for the rollout of mobile signal, and the 5G network, to support the broadband network.

Matthew Howett, founder and principal analyst at Assembly Research, told Verdict:

While mobile broadband is not a perfect substitute for fixed broadband, it can and will replace bad broadband. In my view the UK government and policymakers have largely ignored the role that mobile broadband can play in achieving their objectives for universal coverage, so it’s encouraging to see operators themselves experiment with new models for delivery.

Mal Hilton, Chairman, Northern Fells Broadband, said in a statement:

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.

A resident in South Norfolk without fibre broadband despite Open Reach’s fibre rollout over the past three years speaking about mobile broadband as a USO solution, said:

At first I thought it would be a great alternative. In most cases, this would work well to give a better speed. However, in our case, there is only a 3G signal at best and I’m not sure I would invest in this.

Also, the conservation officer wouldn’t be happy with the unit being attached to the house as it’s listed.