At last hope for truly superfast rural broadband as council announces Airband contract

Earlier today, Shropshire Council announced that it is to take a different approach to getting decent broadband to rural premises. It will be using the high-speed wireless technology provided by Airband, a Worcester based company that is already delivering to many areas in Wales and the Marches. The £11.2 million contract is long overdue and very welcome. We need high speed broadband across all rural areas for our work, education, health and social needs.

The great advantage of this system is that it does not rely on expensive broadband cabinets or the lumbering telecoms giant, BT to get broadband to your home or business. For once we have the promise of getting decent broadband to our rural villages, farms and hamlets.

For the last few years, the council has been reliant on the monolithic BT Openzone to deliver fibre optics to local cabinets. From there, the same old copper wires links homes and businesses to the cabinet. That contract has been slow to roll out and has barely reached anywhere outside towns and village centres.

Airband has been contracted to provide high-speed wireless broadband access to over 14,000 homes and businesses in the Shropshire Council area over the next three years. It will deploy wireless broadband. This works by sending a signal from a transmitter on a mast to a small receiver attached to the property. A cable is then run into the building allowing the end-user to access the internet in the same way as any other broadband connection.

Superfast speeds are promised but the press release issued by Shropshire Council cautiously does not give a typical speed. The technology can achieve 1Gb download speeds but we all know that maximum speeds area rarely achieved. Many people living in the farms and cottages around Ludlow are lucky to get 2Mb at present, so I guess they will grateful for any improvement.

Airband prices look fair – from £25 a month for enough bandwidth for the average household. That’s about the same as fibre-based broadband. Many people living and working in our extensive mobile not-spots will still need a landline. This doesn’t come bundled with Airband.

Airband plans to use existing masts where possible. New masts will resemble a traditional wooden telephone pole. (Image of an Airband mast at Brentor, Dartmoor.) That’s a good move as we have far too many masts cluttering up the countryside.

The company will begin work immediately. You can register an interest on the Airband website.

The total cost of this contract is £11.2 million. Of this, £2.2 million will come from Shropshire Council. Broadband Delivery UK will put in £5.3 million and the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership £2.3 million. The final £1.4 million will be provided by Airband.

The council intends that 98% of Shropshire households and premises will receive superfast broadband by 2020. That will leave around 2,000 premises without superfast access. Shropshire Council says:

“We have a balance of funding and will look at seeking a solution to provide superfast broadband for the remaining gap areas now this procurement is complete. We remain confident that we can provide a superfast solution to all our premises by 2020.”

9 comments on At last hope for truly superfast rural broadband as council announces Airband contract

  1. Although I commend the enhancement of internet access, in these times of austerity I am disappointed when they are stopping really important services to the elderly and infirm that this takes priority.
    Thus, on moral grounds I do have issues with this.

  2. So BDUK and SC have abandoned the FTTC/VDSL rollout altogether for the remotest parts of Shropshire? Shame. Fixed wireless is all very well as a temporary fix, but it’s no substitute for fibre.

    Requiring line-of-sight. For decent throughput, the beam width has to be very small, which means remote dwellings in glens, or on hillsides, will remain out of reach. It’s also plagued by reflection problems, from trees and shrubs, and is beset with signal loss and attenuation in poor weather. Not the best solution.

    It’s a shame there’s no interest in founding a community broadband project for Shropshire. In other areas, local communities have dug their own trenches across open countryside, laying their own ducts and blowing their own fibre to bring blistering 1Gbps internet to some of the most remote places in Britain (e.g. rural Cumbria).

    The labour costs of delivering fibre to the premises (FTTP) are usually prohibitive in rural areas, except where there’s a not-for-profit volunteer workforce like Broadband 4 the Rural North (B4RN). That’s what Shropshire and neighbouring Herefordshire should be aiming to replicate.

  3. Although it’s good that another 14,000 people will be connected, I am surprised that you and other opposition councillors aren’t asking why a wireless solution was chosen over fibre, when other rural counties have managed to supply fibre to the premises (using alternatives to BT) – latest example north east Somerset. Will you be ignoring the fact that there are still many millions more to be repaid by BT, but nothing much else left to spend it on now that Shropshire has gone for the cheaper option?
    Is it right that money intended for broadband might be diverted for another purpose?
    Government policy is now very firmly ‘full fibre’ whether urban or rural. Your unqualified support for this decision places you on the wrong side of progress. Let’s now watch the full fibre rural counties reap the benefits of their foresight while Shropshire marks time.

  4. But does this also include replacing or act least up-gading the botched installations already put in by BT?

    If not, how do we complain about what was, initially, a better service than previously, but has become an increasingly out-of-touch wifi link over the last few years, probably due to “unforeseen” demand, wether by Drop Con or BT … or both?

  5. Having listened to the interview on Radio Shropshire I think the Council made it clear that there is funding left for further solutions. Mr Cosgove seems unhappy with all solutions. He never has appears anything positive to say and never has a solution that doesnt involve millions of additional pounds. The Gvt is oversetting expectations on fibre which is not a solution that will work for the most rural areas. This is a positive outcome – well done Shropshire Council.

  6. I tried to get Superfast Broadband on Stanton Road and waited 6 weeks with nothing but fobb offs only to go back to standard broadband after getting totally fed up with BT Openreach and their USELESS service.

  7. While this is undoubtably a problem that needs an answer, it is a shame that rather than investing properly in infrastructure we have this solution that poses such a health risk to the wider community. It is alarming, given the information available, that people completely ignore the dangers of wireless/mobile/emf’s on public health, while those people who are aware and concerned are completely without the power to control the ever increasing problem in their own area.

  8. To above

    George, in the first Radio Shropshire interview, Shropshire Council’s intimation was that there was a modest balance of funding. In fact it’s already £4.4m with more to come. So tell me how it will be spent now that coverage is almost complete. Should it be spent with BT to overbuild on Airband’s or SWS’s territory? Perhaps it could have been used to co-finance private equity to bring in fibre. Regarding my supposed lack of solutions, I have proposed many in the four year’s of campaigning, but in the second BBC interview I was asked what my opinion was of Shropshire’s decision, not what I thought they should have done, which is now rather academic, although here’s a list of rural areas where fibre decisions have been taken in the last couple of months. Much of Devon and Somerset; parts of Gloucestershire; North Herefordshire; Golden Valley Herefordshire; Isle of Man; Dorset; Cambridgeshire; Berks/Herts; Suffolk; Norfolk. I can find more if you’d like me to. The only other wireless contract I recall recently was on Exmoor. So tell me, is Shropshire leading or lagging?

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