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Are Wi-Fi Hotspots the answer to Rural Broadband Issues?

7 · NOV ·2014

As broadband technology advances, those on the lower end of the digital divide are becoming increasingly frustrated with the fact that they can’t get online. One of the biggest complaints is that even with all this technology there is still numerous areas across the UK that suffer from rural broadband issues with no resolution in sight. In fact, a recent report has shown that those that live in rural areas are more concerned over broadband connections than those that live in urban ones.

According to the digital skills charity Go ON UK, not only is the digital divide harming SMEs it’s also depreciating property values in rural areas. Tristan Wilkinson, deputy CEO of Go ON UK, said: “I think the motivation [in rural areas] is often far greater because of isolation. It’s like a snow effect where maybe you’re isolated for three or four days and not able to work or communicate or do your shopping or do what you need to do. All of a sudden you realise how important these historic connections are.

“Where I live there are villages that have very, very poor connectivity and that’s reflected in the house prices. There’s about a 10-20% premium on the villages that have got good connectivity as opposed to poor connectivity. Imagine buying a brand new car and not having electric windows. It’s like buying a car with all the latest technology but it doesn’t have the one thing I’m going to use on a daily basis. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

In order to resolve the issue of the digital divide in the UK, Go ON UK recently spoke at the Annual Parliament and Internet Conference at Westminster, however there are those that are already proposing other solutions. For example, Wi-Fi provider iPass recently claimed that Wi-Fi Hotspots could soon help numerous rural areas connect to the Internet without having to install telecommunications systems. Currently, there is one Wi-Fi hotspot for every 150 people in the UK according to iPass, and in four years’ time there will be one hotspot for every 20 people worldwide.

However, the company admits that even though the number of Wi-Fi hotspots will increase over the next few years they will not be distributed evenly. For example, they claim that by 2018 there will be one hotspot for every four people in North America, however in Africa there will only be one hotspot for every 408 people. In order to reduce the digital divide here in the UK iPass claim that home routers will start being used as hotspots, meaning those in rural areas will be able to access Wi-Fi from those with reliable connections.

Discussing the plan, June Bower, chief marketing officer at iPass, said: "Every second home you walk past will be a public hotspot that you can use if you are part of that provider's network." However, there are those that claim that this plan is flawed, such as Comms Business Magazine which in a recent article claimed that: “the reality of hotspots is much different. Often they require you to input your life story into some sort of landing page before you get access and can even be painfully slow.”

iPass admit that one of the issues with Wi-Fi hotspots right now is that they are hosted by many different providers, with 50% of all commercial hotspots being owned by brands such as cafes, hoteliers and retailers. Bower added: "At the moment you have to have a separate log-in for every hotspot and ultimately the winning providers are those that will offer the easier access experience.”

It seems as though the problem facing Wi-Fi hotspots is the same as broadband connections: providers cannot offer their services across the whole of the UK. This is why it is integral for solutions such as Fluidata’s Meraki and Service Exchange Platform (SEP) to expand, as it enables numerous ISPs and Wi-Fi providers to reach areas that are affected by rural broadband.

Currently, Fluidata works with over sixty ISPs as part of our SEP project, including Gigaclear, CityFibre and Avanti, all of whom provide their services to resolve the issue of the digital divide. As we continue our work we hope for even more ISPs to offer their services as part of our Service Exchange Platform, thus alleviating the digital divide in the UK.

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Posted by Sanita Karra