DSL and LTE bonding: the remedy for rural broadband?

At the end of October, we spent a few days at Broadband World Forum – an annual conference for industry leaders – where it became clear just how much the way we access the internet is changing.

For example, let’s compare access by geography. While most city dwellers are reaping the benefits of increasingly fast broadband speeds, rural customers have been left to make do with sluggish progress and unreliable connections.

When we look at the average speeds of DSL, which hovers at about 6Mbps, compared to the average broadband speed of 28.9Mbps, the cause becomes clear. And as long as new internet services (like HD video streaming or online gaming) demand being catered to, customers on slower bandwidths may as well be getting cut off from entire areas of the internet.

What are the options?

Don’t despair, but where fixed line broadband is concerned, that’s unlikely to change. Faster physical connections would require a significant infrastructure overhaul, which comes with pricey labour costs. And for rural areas, where there are a limited number of subscribers, there’s just no return on investment for service providers.

There is some hope in 4G LTE. It provides quicker download speeds. It typically reaches around 14Mbps. But once again, it’s at the mercy of geographical and environmental factors like weather – making it a less reliable option.

The best of both worlds

New hybrid routers may be the light at the end of the tunnel. Combining DSL and LTE networks, they’re sparking a new approach to the way broadband is delivered to rural areas.

Using intelligent software to combine DSL connection with mobile data, the high LTE bandwidth boosts speeds for DSL customers in areas where a more advanced fixed-line service isn’t an option. It balances all this by using DSL as the main networking method, and tapping into 4G to boost performance when necessary.

Some of the largest telecoms providers are already implementing this technology – taking the opportunity to extend the life of their traditional copper infrastructure. Deutsche Telekom, for example, has already rolled out the hybrid service to some areas of Germany, and SwissCom held a similar pilot on January this year.

A chance to get ahead

Broadband is asserting its dominance – countless offline services are becoming redundant in favour of online alternatives. The EU even recently set the ambitious goal of 100Mbps in all areas by 2025. And although this is a way off right now, it already seems like the hybrid option is the most efficient and realistic way of hitting this target.

The connected home and Internet of Things (IoT) are a strong reminder of this necessity. In a future when things like locks and alarm clocks will need to be hooked up to the internet, nobody can afford to rely on a weak or inconsistent connection. Broadband is no longer a commodity – it’s not a utility.

This is a chance for CSPs to implement a low cost technology, fill a wide gap in the market, monetise a new technology – and take some big steps into the future.