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UK altnets see record-breaking data consumption, warn of rural dislocation

Two of the UK’s leading alternative broadband suppliers reveal key opportunities and challenges in addressing the increasing connectivity needs of businesses, especially those located outside of metropolitan areas

UK broadband deployment is continuing to adhere to the principle of “if you build it, they will come” as providers are now witnessing unprecedented usage and availability of gigabit infrastructures proliferates across the country. However, there are still fears that the digital divide is persisting, with rural network users stuck in the connectivity slow lane.

Emphasising the current surge in network bandwidth demand, specialist broadband services provider Glide Group has revealed it has seen a 25% increase in network volume compared with the same period last year, and that the digital behaviours adopted in 2020 are here to stay.

Glide is an infrastructure and utilities business, delivering connectivity across the UK and Europe and operating in sectors such as student and built-to-rent accommodation, shared HMO living and business parks.

On 27 September, the company said it hit a new peak of 487G, which coincides with the release of two globally renowned video games: Counter-Strike 2 and early access to EA Sports’ highly anticipated FIFA replacement, FC 24. Data analysis also points to a continued upward trajectory in broadband use, with 2024 expected to see yet another surge.

In addition to this surge, on 22 February 2023, Glide experienced another substantial spike in data usage, which it attributed to the release of season two of the Call of Duty video game. A leading Amazon Prime-hosted Premier League football match further contributed to this surge.

The company said it reinforces the critical need for accessible and cost-effective fibre broadband to meet the evolving demands of this digitally connected world. Glide remains committed to leading the charge in delivering this future. “We continue to invest in our national network,” said Glide chief technology officer Sean Lowery. “We look forward to reaching 1 TBps in the coming years.”

Yet such optimism was tempered by rural broadband provider Quickline Communications, which is warning that isolated communities could “wither and die” without a connection to reliable, high-speed broadband.

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Quickline’s stated mission is to tackle the digital divide between rural and urban areas. In a speech to businesses in North Lincolnshire, one of the areas where Quickline is rolling out a hybrid network of full fibre and 5G fixed wireless broadband, CEO Sean Royce issued a stark assessment of the market, noting that poor connectivity meant businesses in rural areas were “going backwards in terms of economic activity” because they were digitally disadvantaged in comparison with well-connected cities and towns.

Royce added that just under half of the UK had no access to fibre broadband, with rural communities often neglected by major broadband providers.

“We all know rural communities which have lost access to services such as their bank, Post Office, library, GP surgery or even their local shop, with people forced to drive miles to their nearest market town for services,” he said.

“Those people depend on having a fast, reliable broadband service to carry out their day-to-day tasks, but for many living in rural areas, that service does not exist. For rural businesses, it’s no different. Without access to high-speed broadband, businesses will move from rural areas to towns and cities, and rural communities will wither and die. Put simply, the better broadband a business has, the more services they can offer and the more markets it opens up for them. Digital connectivity drives economic growth, and its importance cannot be overstated.”

Just as Royce was making his statement, the company announced it was continuing its full-fibre roll-out to rural locations across North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Specifically, the coastal communities of Hunmanby and Staxton, near Scarborough; Keelby and Folkingham in Lincolnshire; and South Ferriby in North Lincolnshire will now have access to broadband speeds of up to 1 Gbps.

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