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Rural Broadband: why is it so slow?

Cell tower in a rural location

Rural broadband refers to the broadband connections linking the countryside with the national network.

But as rural internet services use the same technology and the same networks as urban areas, why do we need to differentiate them? It's mainly because of the speed and coverage issues that can plague rural homes and businesses.

Ask anyone who lives in the country what the number one downside is, and there's a good chance it will be slow internet access. Of all the fantastic benefits of country living, slow broadband is what stops many people from moving out of our crowded cities.

Rural broadband: the key points

  • Rural locations may have fewer wireless broadband options, with slower speeds and a smaller choice of providers.
  • Superfast broadband packages are now available to the majority of homes.
  • Alternatives for rural homes include satellite broadband and mobile broadband. 
  • Some rural areas do have access to very fast full fibre internet.

Why is rural broadband so slow?

The reason rural broadband is much slower is mainly technical, but naturally, money comes into it too.

The internet connection in your home connects to a street cabinet. In turn, this links to your local exchange. The types of services on offer at the exchange, and sometimes even the distance between that wall socket and the exchange, determine how fast your broadband is.

Broadband signals degrade the further they have to travel. So, the further your house is from the local exchange, the slower your broadband becomes. Which, unsurprisingly, is a problem in rural communities.

Faster home broadband is made possible through new technology. But installing an internet network is an incredibly expensive business. The internet service provider (ISP) can make their money back more easily in urban areas where they'll have a larger number of sign-ups than in rural areas with fewer potential customers.

It doesn't cost them much to connect a row of urban houses, making it well worth the ISP's time to do so. That same connection could cost many thousands of pounds to link just one or two rural properties, and that’s often just too expensive.

What are the options for rural broadband?

Rural broadband dwellers have a few choices when it comes to getting online. This can include the same options as urban areas, but there are some alternatives to the regular services available elsewhere.


ADSL is broadband provided using the BT Openreach network telephone line. It’s slower than fibre, but it uses existing infrastructure. It's cheap, and just about anyone can get it.

Depending on the distance from your local exchange, it can provide modest broadband speeds. BT and the many Openreach resellers, such as Sky, TalkTalk, EE, and Plusnet, offer ADSL connections all around the country.

Pros of ADSL Cons of ADSL
  • Uses existing copper telephone wire
  • Most rural properties already have a phone line
  • Relatively cheap
  • Not the fastest broadband around
  • More likely to be slow with too many people using it at once.
  • Gets slower the further you are from the exchange

Bonded DSL

Bonded DSL combines two or more ADSL lines to provide faster connections. It can be a viable option if your ADSL speed on a single line isn’t fast enough. BT and a few resellers offer bonded ADSL in some locations, but it’s relatively rare.

Pros of bonded DSL Cons of bonded DSL
  • Faster speeds than standard ADSL
  • Utilises some existing infrastructure
  • Available in many areas that can use ADSL
  • It can be expensive
  • Not everywhere has the processing power in the exchange to power it
  • Not all broadband providers offer this service

FTTC fibre optic

Fibre To The Cabinet or FTTC is a type of fibre broadband where the fibre lines only run to the street cabinet, and then a telephone line carries the signal into your property. This is the most common type of fibre broadband in the UK at present, and many homes already have access. Virgin Media also uses similar technology, though it tends not to be available in rural areas.

Pros of FTTC Cons of FTTC
  • Much faster than ADSL
  • Relatively cheap
  • Widely available
  • Not available everywhere
  • Still uses the old telephone lines, so not as fast as full-fibre
  • Not available if you’re very far from the exchange

FTTP fibre optic

Fibre to the Premises is a high-speed broadband service. This is full fibre broadband technology, with fibre optic cables running all the way into your home. It’s rarer than FTTC and ADSL, but in the long term, the plan is that FTTP will eventually replace ADSL and FTTC. Currently, around half of UK properties have access to full fibre.

Pros of FTTP Cons of FTTP
  • Very fast broadband connection to your home
  • Very reliable
  • Relatively affordable deals
  • Only half of UK properties have FTTP
  • Limited ISPs offering this service
  • Can be very expensive to install

Mobile broadband

Mobile broadband offers a ray of hope for rural areas. It uses the mobile phone network to provide broadband for phones and computers and doesn’t require expensive cabling. RuralBroadband.co.uk, Three, EE, Vodafone and other networks offer mobile broadband for home use.

Pros of mobile broadband Cons of mobile broadband
  • Can be faster than some fixed-line connections
  • More flexible than fixed-line broadband
  • Available with a much wider reach than fixed-line broadband
  • Coverage depends entirely on the mobile network signal
  • Contracts often have data usage limits


Satellite broadband uses a satellite dish to send and receive a broadband signal, much like satellite TV. It works anywhere, so is the last resort if there's no other option.

Pros of satellite broadband Cons of satellite broadband
  • Offers connections anywhere in the UK, only need line of sight to a satellite
  • Provides decent connection speeds where you would otherwise have none
  • Modest installation requirements
  • Expensive installation and running costs
  • The dishes don’t look nice.
  • Significant latency as the signals have to travel far.

Fixed Wireless Access

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) is a way of linking your property to a network wirelessly and then using a fibre backbone network connected to the wireless station to complete the journey. It’s the same principle as home Wi-Fi. A wireless device is placed in a central position and customers can connect to it. It then joins the provider network as usual. Providers such as Kijoma offer FWA in Britain, though it's fairly uncommon.

Pros of Fixed Wireless Access Cons of Fixed Wireless Access
  • Much cheaper to use and install than fixed-line
  • Faster than 4G and ADSL connections in some locations
  • Fairly reliable
  • Limited availability
  • Wireless is susceptible to interference from weather

What's the best broadband for rural areas?

There is no one broadband that's best for rural locations. Too much depends on your location, geography, how close you are from a local telephone exchange and what services are offered in your region. Research is essential to identify which is available at your postcode, how fast the speeds can go and what your needs are.

Ideally, you'll have some kind of fixed-line broadband, as this will deliver the best speed and reliability at a reasonable cost. But exactly what type of broadband you can get depends on your location.

The Broadband Genie deals checker is an excellent place to start as you can quickly see what, if any, fixed-line broadband is possible in your area.

Broadband Genie deals checker

For locations with a good mobile phone signal, mobile broadband is likely cheaper and easier to set up than other options such as satellite. You just need an account, a wireless dongle or 4G/5G home router, and you’re ready to go.

Dynamic deal panel

If you have the option for FTTC, FTTP, or FWA, it may be worth exploring those options first. That way you can avoid the data caps that often come with mobile broadband contracts as these often offer unlimited data packages. However, the likes of Three's Home Broadband deals come completely unlimited. You can find out more on our fibre (FTTC) broadband or FTTP deals pages.

Satellite broadband’s cost makes it only worth considering if nothing else will work. For more information about the advantages and drawbacks, see our guide to satellite internet.

What's fibre availability like for rural broadband?

The headlines typically say that fibre broadband is available in 95%+ of UK households. What they don’t say is that the remaining 5% are almost entirely rural. The fibre rollout is continuing, but progress is slow.

If the leading ISPs aren’t moving fast enough, you could always try drumming up interest in a community fibre partnership such as B4RN or Gigaclear. These have installed FTTP broadband in rural areas, though they aren’t suitable for individual homes in very remote locations.

Getting FTTP to a single home is possible, but can be very expensive.

When will rural broadband get better?

Unfortunately, we can't answer this with any degree of accuracy. Broadband network operators are installing cables and improving rural reach, but progress is slow. The government has various incentives out there to encourage this, but, again, progress is slow.

The government says it plans to deliver gigabit-capable ultrafast broadband nationwide by 2030. However, these targets should always be taken with a pinch of salt. And there’s a cost threshold, so some homes in the most remote areas will have to either pay for the remaining installation fees or need to turn to alternatives.

How to get faster broadband in a rural area

While you’re waiting for ISPs, the government, or 5G, there are a few things you can do to make sure your existing line is working to the best of its ability.

If you can achieve decent broadband speeds occasionally, but then it drops, that is worth investigating as might mean there's a problem with your line. Contact your provider’s technical support team and ask them to run checks.

If you have a good 4G phone signal outside your property but not indoors, you can buy signal repeaters that can fix that. Repeaters make mobile broadband more accessible to anyone within range and could plug the broadband gap until your area is connected to fibre. Three, EE, Vodafone and other mobile broadband providers offer repeaters that work on their own networks.

Mobile broadband performance can also be significantly improved with an externally mounted aerial to provide better reception.

Rural broadband is a slowly evolving picture but is steadily getting better. Even if you don’t yet have the option for fibre or superfast connections, the range of connectivity options is now larger than ever. Hopefully, there should be at least one piece of tech out there to get you connected!

Expert Summary

The limitations of broadband in rural areas can seem like a big problem to many. Fortunately, there are more ways to get online these days than you might expect.

Fixed-line broadband isn’t always a possibility out in the sticks, but we do recommend going with it if it’s at all possible. Even a slow ADSL line can be better than a faster mobile or satellite connection if you’re after reliability. Fortunately, there are fibre broadband providers out there who are offering services in some rural areas. If you can get some form of fibre broadband, whether FTTC or FTTP, we highly recommend going with that option.

For those of you who can’t get fixed-line broadband, don’t worry. Mobile broadband offers excellent speeds, just keep an eye on data caps and what sort of service you can get. If that doesn’t work because you’re somewhere truly rural, then satellite broadband is definitely an option. Just remember that it can be pretty pricy and slow at times.

If you’re living in a rural area, and you’re looking for new broadband, we suggest doing your research. You can start by using our deals checker to see what's available at your home address.

Meet the author:


Jamie worked as a NOC engineer with a national telecoms provider for over a decade before deciding he preferred writing for a living. He is passionate about making technical subjects understandable to all. He has written for PC Gamer, Tom's Hardware, Hilton Hotels, DHL, Dyson and others.

Specialist subject: As an ex-engineer, it has to be networks and installation

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