Engineers Enlist Help of Drone to Boost Highland Glen’s Broadband Speeds

Glenmazeran drone

The drone is helping to lay an armoured cable in a remote area east of the River Findhorn, where 37 homes are scattered.

A drone has been drafted in the help engineers who are building a full-fibre broadband network in challenging Highland terrain.

The team from Openreach is working with the community of Glenmazeran, south of Inverness, on an ambitious project to bring more reliable, ultrafast broadband to residents.

Armoured cable has been buried along 10km of single-track road through the glen to the east of the River Findhorn, where most of the 37 scattered homes included in the first phase of the project are located. But a Scottish engineering first was needed to reach one remote property on the other side of the fast-flowing river – the use of a drone.

Remote and scattered

Kevin Drain, Openreach’s chief engineer for the North of Scotland, said: “Although Glenmazeran is only 20 miles from Inverness, the properties are very remote and scattered. We’ve had to contend with steep drops and bankings as we buried cable along the single-track road. But the biggest challenge was reaching one remote home, 400 metres away from the main route, where the fibre cable needed to span a 50-metre wide stretch of river.

“In the past we’ve tried all sorts of ways to do this – like attaching cables to fishing lines, golf balls and even hammers, which frankly proved hit and miss.

“This is the first time we’ve used a drone to drop fibre into place here in Scotland and as a delivery method it’s unbeatable. Drones will now become part of our toolkit to reach places where the terrain means traditional engineering is difficult or impossible.

“We did need to practice our technique,” Kevin added. “It’s a bit different from connecting up a street in Inverness, that’s for sure!”

Engineers completed a week’s training to become certified by the Civil Aviation Authority in order to fly the drone for commercial purposes, and the Scottish Openreach team is one of just five in the UK now approved to fly drones.

The Glenmazeran project is co-funded by residents, community use money from local windfarm operator Eneco, and Openreach. Residents are also helping to dig in the final lengths of cable which travel from the new fibre spine to their properties.

Work is ongoing to connect local properties to Fibre-to-the-Premises technology (FTTP), with the network now live and around two-thirds of the 37 homes now able to order a service. The rest are expected to follow later this month. The future-proof, more reliable technology is capable of delivering download speeds of up to one gigabit per second (1Gbps) – enough bandwidth to stream 200 HD Netflix movies simultaneously.

Robert Thorburn, partnership director for Openreach in Scotland, added: “Our engineers love nothing more than a challenge and Glenmazeran has provided us with a great opportunity to test our skills. We’re constantly working on new techniques and technologies to help us take fibre broadband further and faster, and, importantly, to drive down delivery costs.

“This may be one of the quirkier uses for a drone, but innovations like this means we can now deliver high-speed broadband in situations where traditionally it’s been impossible for any business or partnership to justify the work.”

The Community Fibre Partnership scheme is designed to help people in places not included in any current roll-out plans to bring fibre broadband to their local area, working with Openreach to co-fund the installation.

The UK Government’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme can be used by small and medium-sized businesses and the local communities around them to contribute to the cost of full fibre broadband. Businesses can claim up to £3,000, and residents can also benefit from the scheme with a voucher worth £500 as part of a wider project.

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