Openreach trials new full-fibre tech

New deployment methods could make rollouts cheaper and faster.

A shovel spilling soil

Wednesday, 9 October, 2019

Thirteen small towns and villages have been selected for Openreach’s latest bout of full-fibre deployment trials. This will test new methods for laying cables and extending the range of full-fibre connections. If these methods prove to be successful, they could make new fibre builds happen faster, with less expense and disruption.

In alphabetical order, the announced test sites are:

  • Cranfield
  • Flockton
  • Hesketh Bank
  • Kentford
  • Lingfield
  • Lundin Links
  • Mickle Trafford
  • Okehampton
  • Ottery St Mary
  • Parbold
  • Seal
  • Tarporley
  • West Calder

New deployment methods

A number of technologies are being tested in these trials, including digging equipment and “broadband-boosting” upgrades to exchanges and nodes.

Diamond cutter trench tool

This is a type of circular saw reinforced with diamond teeth. It cuts through pretty much anything with great speed and efficiency. These machines can lay up to 700 meters of fresh cable a day, 20 times faster than current methods.

Georipper

This is a chainsaw-like piece of equipment that is used to dig through soft material, like soil. Georippers are manned by a single engineer, and create very narrow trenches. Not only is this a fast way to dig through fields and verges, but it creates minimal mess and disruption.

Micro-ducting

All cables are protected by a plastic polymer sheath, or duct. Ducts for old copper cables could be as large as 100mm in diameter, meaning bigger trenches and more manpower to lay them. These new digging methods will lay micro-duct cables, which are around 10 times smaller.

Ground penetrating radar

Radar technology lets engineers see what’s underground without having to dig anything up. This makes surveying and planning a much faster process, and reduces the risk of unexpected interruptions when digging begins.

Light signal boosters

Fibre optics transport data through light. With brighter lights, this data can travel further and to more places. New boosters could extend the range of fibre signals by up to 50%, and could serve more than 1000 premises.

Nobody left behind

Openreach expect that 90% of the country will be served by commercial full-fibre enterprises. The Government doesn’t have quite as much faith, and has pledged £5 billion to bring fibre to the most rural 20%.

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.

- Clive Selley, Chief Executive, Openreach

Most of the above methods are being used by the platter of alternative full-fibre providers, but Openreach have the most reach and potential to deliver.

The Government recently downgraded thier ‘full-fibre by 2025’ goal to ‘Gigabit-capable by 2025’. But it seems that Openreach are still sticking to full-fibre builds for rural areas, which is certainly welcome news.

Samuel Newman author picture

By:

Samuel Newman is a consumer journalist and blogger based in Sheffield.

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