Openreach looks for rural broadband solution with trial

Openreach engineers are trialling a range of new tools and techniques – as they work to upgrade 13 of the UK’s rural communities to faster, more reliable and future-proof broadband technology.

The trials are part of the company’s ambition to extend its new ‘full’ fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) network into areas that are more challenging for a commercial investment programme.

Engineers will be deploying full fibre to upgrade 50,000 homes and businesses in villages and market towns stretching from Scotland to Devon including: Cranfield; West Calder; Flockton; Hesketh Bank; Kentford; Lingfield; Lundin Links; Mickle Trafford; Okehampton; Ottery St Mary; Parbold; Seal; and Tarporley.

Some customers have already been connected and the first homes and businesses across other pilot locations should be able to order their new FTTP broadband services in time for Christmas 2019. Building work across the 13 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 per cent of the country will need to 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, or approximately 17 per cent of the population, live in rural areas.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine