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Openreach unveils rural fibre trials

Openreach has provided some colour to the rural fibre plans, testing out new technologies and techniques, with the objective of connecting 50,000 homes by Christmas.

13 rural locations around the country have been selected to trial the new technologies and techniques. Should the pilots prove successful, the hope is full fibre deployments can be accelerated, allowing the team to meet the demands of ambitious (and potentially misguided) politicians.

“At Openreach, we’ll never just be a city fibre provider,” said CEO Clive Selley. “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.

“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.”

The 13 trial locations across the UK will see Openreach test out some new equipment and techniques which it seemingly hopes will improve the commercial business case for full fibre deployment in the rural regions. Let’s not forget, while the Government clearly thinks Openreach should forget about profits in pursuit of a nationwide digital society, it is a private business with responsibilities to shareholders.

One new piece of equipment which the team will be testing is a new trench digging tool known as a ‘Diamond Cutter’. With diamonds embedded in the blades, the tool can carve through concrete much more efficiently, while simultaneously laying the tubing for fibre cables. Openreach suggests the tool could lay 700 metres of cable a day, 20 times greater than a traditional two-man team.

Another trial will focus on ‘remote nodes’. The broadband boosting equipment enables current fibre installations to be extended by 150%, allowing the team to ‘piggy back’ on existing assets. The hope is with this trial that the team will be able to avoid the expensive and time-consuming job of deploying new fibre spines to the rural locations.

What is worth noting is that while any business will look to innovation to decrease financial outlays, there is political and regulatory pressure in the background also driving the Openreach ambitions.

Announced back in June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the very grand proclamation that his administration would fuel a full fibre diet, reaching every household by 2025. Considering the previous objective was to fibre-up the country by 2033, the accelerated timeframe would certainly get a few people in the industry panicking.

Speaking to Telecoms.com, a few industry insiders suggested Johnson was not necessarily living in the real world with such ambitions. Not only would the financial burden of these of these plans perhaps be inhibitive, but the regulatory environment isn’t the most helpful, while the workforce would need to be super-charged. BT has since suggested the industry would have to find additional investments of £30 billion to meet the earlier deadline.

If the likes of Openreach are going to aid the Government in reaching such ambitious targets, the success of these trials will be very important. That, and finding the extra couple of billion needed to finance the projects.

  • Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies


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