Westminster View

Living in a largely rural constituency obviously has many plus points but, in the 21st century, poor internet speed most certainly isn’t one of them for many Meon Valley residents.

There remains too many ‘not spots’ and much frustration about the cost of connecting villages and more isolated communities with superfast broadband or, in the future, full fibre.

The Government has recognised the need to help the rural economy and to invest more in full fibre because at the moment the UK is lagging behind many competitors with only 4% of full fibre connection available against 89% in Portugal, for example.

However, the good news is there is now a long-term plan to address this shortfall. This includes a requirement that full fibre broadband is installed for all new build homes, for example, and a new priority to connect rural areas using government investment.

This strategy also means the majority of the population receiving access to 5G and the connecting of 15 million premises to full fibre broadband by 2025, with coverage across all of the UK by 2033.

I think that 5G could play a vital role in allowing the best broadband speeds in rural areas because it is mobile and so therefore flexible. Although short in range, it might well be possible to use 5G masts to give that access to good internet speeds in rural areas by ‘piggy backing’ the full fibre into villages using 5G.

There are problems that need to be overcome with expense the major issue, particularly as digital takes over more and more services and applications as the Internet of Things revolution gathers pace.

Of course, 5G requires base stations and cell sites just like 4G, but those base stations, in order to handle the loads demanded by all the connected devices in homes, will need to be plentiful.  Sites will also need to be identified, but churches in rural areas could well be a solution in many cases.

It also has to be a joined-up approach because without full fibre, 5G cannot work. Just think of all the videos and information moving across 5G without full fibre in 2018. Think ahead to driverless cars and other innovations and you can see capacity issues need to be addressed. Also, if traditional or superfast broadband is replaced, that would collapse 5G, so this revolution will be held back by the need to evolve towards better digital infrastructure.

However, innovation, investment by government and by business will solve the problems. There is a plan and there is the start of practical solutions that will help the UK compete and help the rural economy to catch up.

Will there be parity between the towns and cities and rural communities when it comes to internet speeds? Not yet, but it has to happen. Why? Because, just take the example of driverless cars. I don’t think there’s going to be much interest long-term if these vehicles can only drive themselves around urban areas but then grind to a halt as soon as a field comes into view.