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Could 5G end fixed-line home broadband?

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Monday, 15 July, 2019

Earlier this year, Ofcom reported that UK phone users have halved their use of landline phones, and increased their use of mobile calls tenfold.

With 5G now rolling out, it makes sense to ask whether the same might happen to fixed broadband.

In a few more years, will we all rely on mobile broadband at home in the way we currently depend on mobile phones?

As broad as it’s long

At the moment, it’s hard to say whether domestic broadband has a long-term future.

There’s plenty of investment and promotion going into both mobile and fixed line broadband.

Traditional providers are busy laying Fibre to the Premises (or Fibre to the Cabinet), and promoting this as the home broadband gold standard.

Speeds and service reliability are rightly identified as advantages of domestic broadband.

Meanwhile, mobile providers are pushing 5G, mobile routers and cost-effective data contracts as alternatives to traditional FTTP or FTTC broadband.

These network operators talk up the convenience of mobile broadband and the speed of 5G. So what are customers to make of it all, and how can they choose?

Patchy coverage

The truth is nobody yet has a clear advantage in domestic internet provision.

Perhaps the biggest problem for both fixed and mobile broadband is coverage.

Plenty of places in the UK can’t get fast broadband, and locals rely on slow ADSL connections.

Yet despite mobile phones having been commonplace since the 1990s, lots of UK locations don’t get decent mobile signals either.

In some places, there’s no mobile coverage at all.

Even in popular holiday spots like the Cotswolds and Dorset, geography (or a lack of masts) can make it hard to get consistent mobile reception.

So mobile providers and the big broadband companies have something in common.

Neither has the coverage and infrastructure needed to dominate the home broadband market completely, however fast their speeds.

Openreach is building the country’s fibre infrastructure right now.

But some areas will almost certainly remain better served than others, for years to come.

And it’s very hard to see how the country could ever have enough mobile masts to provide complete 5G coverage.

The issues with money, geography and planning law are simply too great.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, mobile providers must consider the massively greater demand generated by domestic broadband consumers compared to mobile clients.

With the internet of things growing rapidly and multiple household members running multiple devices, how much can tomorrow’s mobile infrastructure take?

Mixed media?

It seems clear that internet use will grow, and the internet of things could grow even faster. But nobody knows how the home broadband market might evolve.

There are several possibilities.

These include fibre and mobile options – copper landlines should vanish in time.

There’ll be plenty of internet traffic to keep both connection types busy, and perhaps in time, one might come to dominate.

But at the moment, both options involve pros and cons.

In many cases, the best solution might be a personalised blend of mobile and fixed broadband.

And if that’s the way forward, the best thing providers can do is ensure the switch between mobile and fixed is seamless and convenient, for users and their devices.

As we enter the 5G era, it looks as though service will become as important as price, with mobile companies moving into the domestic broadband market.

Let’s hope fresh competition for today’s established broadband giants will ultimately be good news for customers…

Neil Cumins author picture

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Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!

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