BT Openreach is widening its build programme to include 250,000 homes and businesses in more than 200 rural locations.
The company aims to provide four million homes and businesses with access to full fibre technology by the end of March 2021.
Kim Mears, MD of strategic infrastructure development, said: “We’re already over halfway there and that’s from virtually a standing start just two years ago. Now we have an ambition to go even further.
“Deciding where we build is just as important as how fast you get there. The problem is that many network builders focus on cities or large urban areas. In cities, people live closer together so it’s easier to connect more homes in one go, and there’s often more existing infrastructure that can be re-used – helping to drive down costs and allow for a quicker return on investment. There is also less tricky terrain like mountains, rivers, forests and farmland to get in the way. At Openreach, we’ve never been just a city fibre builder.”
Around 17% of people live in rural parts of the UK, and Openreach has been using new technologies and different funding models – such as its Community Fibre Partnership scheme – to extend it network out to reach as many of them as possible
“Over the past few years we’ve had lots of first-hand experience delivering full fibre to some of the most remote communities in the UK – from the Outer Hebrides to Isles of Scilly – and through some of the most challenging geographies,” Mears said.
“It’s physically and economically challenging, but full fibre can provide the most future proof platform for growth and prosperity throughout the UK so we’ve been busy scouting the world for the very best and latest tools and techniques to help us meet that challenge.”
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In 2019, Openreach put a range of innovations to the test with intensive trials in 13 rural communities. Mears said: “We tried out everything from ‘diamond cutters’ – a giant rotating blade that can slice through roads and pavements and slash the time it takes to deploy fibre cables by months; to drones that can fly fibre across rivers and valleys; and ground penetrating radar to guide to our diggers.
“Those trials have taught us loads and this week we announced we’re widening out our build programme to include 250,000 homes and businesses in more than 200 market towns and villages, which were considered too complex or expensive to upgrade before.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure rural areas don’t get left behind, because as an industry we need to work together to meet the Government’s gigabit connectivity ambitions. In the race to deliver full fibre to the nation we’re determined to make the digital divide a thing of the past.”