The joint £94m BT and Connecting Devon and Somerset project in England has successfully used a “pioneering new” 4 kilometre microwave radio link to help supply capacity for an FTTC (up to 80Mbps) equipped Street Cabinet in the remote Devon village of Northlew, which would have otherwise required the installation of an expensive fibre optic cable.
Connections using line-of-sight style Microwave wireless technology are nothing new and until recently they’ve often been used to supply broadband capacity to big businesses and remote communities, such as those on the Shetland Islands. But in the past few years many of these links have been replaced by higher capacity fibre optic cables, although Microwave technology has continued to evolve and get faster.
Now BT has decided to put some of these innovations to the test by using the same approach to bring superfast broadband connectivity into the community of Northlew, which has already seen over 120 customers subscriber to FTTC connections supplied by the new link (about half of the village’s premises).
Paul Coles, BT South West Regional Manager, said:
“Getting superfast broadband to Northlew has been an immensely challenging and satisfying project. We knew that it would not be viable to lay a fibre optic cable to such a small remote community, but we were able to make the village one of the first places in the UK to try out this new microwave radio solution.
I’d particularly like to thank the people of Northlew for their invaluable support. When it comes to being connected they have shown amazing community spirit and determination. BT and the Connecting Devon and Somerset team have worked with them closely to make this project a reality.
The radio link connects to a new broadband cabinet near the centre of the village, which offers all the usual fibre broadband speeds and benefits. This is just one example of many of an innovative approach to bringing fibre based broadband to remote communities – and that innovation will continue.
We’re more than four years into rolling out fibre broadband across the South West, whether through our commercial programme or with our public sector partners, so the production line is well and truly established and primed to deliver even more over the coming years.”
The Gloucestershire village of Hardwicke will also be among the first communities to trial the same wireless technology through the related Fastershire partnership between Gloucestershire County Council, Herefordshire Council and BT.
But Microwave technology is limited by line-of-sight and this won’t be the best solution for every community, with BT tending to lean towards adopting whichever method is likely to be the most economically viable approach for improving coverage and speed (i.e. they can use FTTP, FTTrN, FTTC, Microwave or a combination of those etc.).
We have pressed BT for a few more details on the above approach and hope to report back soon.
NOTE: The picture above is a general illustration and not one from the related community.
UPDATE 15th October 2014
Sadly Openreach won’t give us any details about the Microwave link itself and would only confirm that the connection should provide more than enough capacity for the village. In general the only stand out feature of this deployment is its ability to link directly with a street cabinet, which readers might recall from last year’s trial on the remote island of Rathlin (here).