BT Openreach's recent launch of an availability map for their new 'Infinity' fibre optic broadband has created quite a stir, but try to actually see if your particular area is covered, and if not when it might happen, is an exercise in frustration. The 'checker' gives only very broad answers, and no estimation of likely speeds. So should you wait for the giant green boxes to start landing on pavements, or look elsewhere?
We found ourselves in this position when we moved home a couple of years back. The house is part of an old farm, on the edge of reasonable sized village, but at the end of a fairly desolate track. BT's fibre plans were in the offing for the wider area, but there was no real detail. The annoying thing is that even now some streets won't be covered anytime soon, either because their aren't enough subscribers within reach, or because the necessary fibre optic cable 'trunks' would cost too much to install.
The only quasi national alternative is via cable TV - Virgin - but this is again restricted to the mostly urban areas that were dug up by Virgin's predecessors in the 1990s. In out case, following the original digging scars in the pavement, we found the network finished at the far end of our rural road - with no chance of an extension (although to be fair we don't have mains gas or sewerage, although I would argue about which was the higher priority in 2011!).
I started looking at alternatives to 'bits of cable in the ground' thinking that if we can get a TV picture from the other side of the globe in real time, getting my iPlayer fix across town shouldn't be an issue. What I discovered is a whole cottage industry in the UK of alternative providers making use of a little-known, high-powered version of the 'wifi' networks that you would typical have within a typical house, or at the local coffee shop.
These networks make use of frequencies handed out by the UK regulator OFCOM, and depending on location and technical trickery, can give broadband like speeds to whole communities at an end user cost similar to the phone and cable based alternatives.
Annoyingly there was only one such company in Kent, and as we were on the very edge of an area served by both cable and BT, they hadn't bothered extending their network as far as us.
So, we started our own! Our network is Medwave (Medwave.co.uk) and operates in the Medway area of Kent, covering both the remote villages on the Hoo peninsula (of Boris would-be airport fame) and central Chatham (alleged home of the original chavs).
Subscribers need a roof mounted antenna similar in size to a lunch box, which is then wired back inside the house, much like a traditional TV aerial. This then connects to either an individual computer, or to the home wifi. Network speeds compare favourably with 'real world' phone line speeds of around 30-40Mbits per second,
The service isn't for everyone, but does 'save' small rural communities or specialist users The cost of the installation means this system will never compete with the five pound deals that big companies like TalkTalk can offer in town, but for some customers it truly is the only option.
The upload speed (the speed at which data is sent to the Internet) is ideal for people such as graphic designers and photographers, and gamers love the service for its fast 'ping times' (the delay between user and the online game servers).
More details of the service, available to most ME postcodes, is at www.medwave.co.uk