Openreach will install some of the UK’s fastest and most reliable broadband to villages in Fife and West Lothian as part of a trial in rural communities.
Openreach engineers will be working in Lundin Links, Lower Largo and West Calder to test a range of new tools and techniques as they install the latest fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP or ‘full-fibre’) broadband.
The first homes and businesses should be able to order their new FTTP broadband services in time for Christmas 2019, with work continuing during 2020. People living and working in the three villages will have access to download speeds of up to one gigabit per second (1Gbps) – around 18 times faster than the current UK average.
The trials are part of the company’s ambition to extend its new full-fibre network into areas that are more challenging for a commercial investment programme.
Brendan Dick, chair of the Openreach board in Scotland, said: “This is a really important trial for Openreach and it’s great that Fife and West Lothian are set to play a leading role.
“We understand the importance of bringing great connectivity to rural communities and, as well as providing fantastic broadband for people living in Lundin Links, Lower Largo and West Calder, we hope this provides us with the platform to extend our reach to hundreds of thousands more rural premises in the coming years.”
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Across the UK, engineers will be deploying full-fibre to 50,000 homes and businesses in villages and market towns including Cranfield; West Calder; Flockton; Hesketh Bank; Kentford; Lingfield; Lundin Links (including Lower Largo); Mickle Trafford; Okehampton; Ottery St Mary; Parbold; Seal; and Tarporley.
Building work across the locations is expected to be finished for just over half the customers across all the pilot sites by the end of March 2020.
If the pilots prove successful, it could mean some hundreds of thousands more homes and businesses across the UK – those in smaller, less accessible locations that were considered more difficult or expensive for the private sector to upgrade commercially – could potentially become eligible for being included in Openreach’s ‘Fibre First’ investment programme in the years ahead – if the right investment conditions are met.
Clive Selley, chief executive of Openreach, said: “At Openreach, we’ll never be just a city fibre provider. We’ve always worked hard to improve connections to isolated, less commercially attractive communities through inventive engineering and effective funding partnership models.
“In recent years we’ve been extending our full-fibre network into rural areas – mostly in partnership with local authorities and Government – but the economics are clearly challenging, and we want to do more. We know that around 10% of the country will need the support of public subsidy, but these trials will help us test a bunch of new techniques that could help us in other rural areas.
“The trials will also give us a much clearer picture of what the technical challenges in these kinds of rural areas are. We hope they’ll go a long way towards developing the tools, skills and innovations required to make sure that nobody’s left behind in the full-fibre future.”
According to recent government statistics, around 11 million people in the UK – approximately 17% of the population – live in rural areas.
Openreach engineers will test a number of cost busting tools in the 13 locations, including a specialised trench-digging tool called a diamond cutter – a giant rotating circular blade with diamonds embedded in the metal coating on its edge – enabling it to slice through carriageway or footway leaving a neat channel into which the machine simultaneously feeds in tubing for fibre-optic cables as it moves along the ground.
The specialist kit is capable of installing 700 metres of cabling a day – more than 20 times that by a standard two-person team using traditional methods of drilling and excavation, slashing the time taken to deploy fibre by months.
The company is also trialling ‘remote nodes’ – where fibre-optic cables can be built out from specially-adapted existing green roadside cabinets.
Specialised broadband-boosting equipment installed inside the cabinet enables full-fibre connections to extend by more than one and a half times their current reach, with the capacity to connect more than 1,000 premises. By ‘piggy-backing’ on our existing network, engineers can take full-fibre further and faster – while avoiding up to six months in time and associated cost involved in deploying new fibre cables or ‘spines’ from an exchange to remote rural areas.
The rural pilot locations have been carefully chosen to be representative of a wider number of geographic areas across the UK and in order to test different build scenarios.
Openreach is on track to reach its full-fibre build target of reaching four million homes and businesses by the end of March 2021 – and it’s currently passing around 22,000 premises a week with fibre – or one every 28 seconds. However, the company wants to go much further – to reach 15 million by the mid-2020s and ultimately the majority of the UK if the right investment conditions are in place.
The business doubled its FTTP footprint last year and today more than 1.8 million UK homes and businesses have access to faster, more reliable full-fibre services over the Openreach network.