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Wansdyke Telecom Building 1Gbps Fibre in Rural North East Somerset

Monday, January 20th, 2014 (6:11 pm) - Score 1,710

A Community Interest Company (CIC) called Wansdyke Telecom (WT) has started to build a 1000Mbps capable rural fibre optic (FTTP/H) broadband network that eventually aims to connect “every community in [North East] Somerset that wants it” (England).

The Wansdyke Telecom project is reliant upon strong community support to help build the network. This saves a significant amount of money on infrastructure costs, which some reports have claimed can account for up to 80% of the total deployment (WT expects 60% of their project costs will be for materials and the remaining 40% is labour).

Wansdyke Telecom Statement

We will lay the duct not on the highway but across the farmland on ‘the other side of the wall’. Digging a narrow trench and installing a duct within it is dramatically less expensive across private farmland than along the highway. Even less expensive across open land is the ability to lay the cable ducting (typically 16mm in diameter) using mole-digging equipment. The work can be done by agricultural workers, volunteers and the farmers themselves; it’s not high technology, similar to laying a simple water or drainage pipe (but significantly smaller) which they do all the time. The combination of lower cost labour and simple installation without the regulatory burden of the street works act and similar impediments results in a dramatic reduction in cost per metre installed.

Of course the costs of the materials will actually be rather higher than those paid by telecommunications companies due to our smaller scale of operations; however this is much more than offset by the reduced laying costs. Where necessary we will use the highways but this should be for a small proportion of the duct length, mainly for road crossings and short sections where the farmland is either not available to us or unsuitable.

But putting fibre optic cables into the ground to build a new broadband and telecoms infrastructure doesn’t come cheap. According to the Somerset Guardian (via Thinkbroadband), WT has successfully raised the money needed to get started (£150,000) through an SEIS Investment Scheme. As a result the first stretch of cable has already been built into Newton St.Looe (linked back to a capacity supply in London) and will soon move into Marksbury and then beyond.

At the same time it’s worth remembering that the Bath & North East Somerset Council currently aim to make “high speed fibre broadband” services available to 90% of local premises by the end of 2016 (i.e. the last 10% will get speeds of between 2Mbps and up to 24Mbps) using BT’s FTTC/P network (this forms part of the existing Connecting Devon and Somerset scheme). But that still leaves 5-10% left to fend for themselves, which is where operators like WT believe they can make a difference.

Never the less it could take years for such a small operation to achieve their ambition and in the meantime we wouldn’t be surprised to see the local CDS scheme expand to match the national superfast broadband coverage target of 95%, although that’s just speculation and it’s good to see that WT is being proactive.

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12 Responses
  1. Avatar Chris Conder

    Great news, good to hear that communities are helping themselves and building futureproof networks instead of hoping to get decent connections via copper, because that will never happen. Only those in cities will be looked after because of Virgin competition, the rest will have to wait for infinity, and we all know how long that wait is. We’re still waiting for ordinary adsl broadband in many places, and the way to move it forward is to JfDI. good luck Wansdyke, people of grit.

  2. Avatar MikeW

    Interesting group; will be good to see how they build up their detailed network plans.

    Like B4RN, these guys plan to deploy fibre by running it across farmland rather than in roadside verges or under the road.

    This reduces the cost by making it easy to dig, especially by volunteer labour, but leaves the enterprise open to large wayleave payments. But, again like B4RN, they intend to operate by making no wayleave payment (which amounts to somewhere between £160 per km and £470 per km for access fibre, or more for core fibre).

    I’m interested in this from 2 perspectives…

    a) Isn’t this a hefty loss of income for farmers? It sounds like a great way to reduce the cost for rural fibre, but doesn’t it put an unfair burden on the farmers compared to other rural dwellers? I’m sure Chris has a very good perspective on this one…

    b) Wansdyke report that, in their case, they intend to route their fibre over lots of land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. As Crown land (specifically the Prince of Wales), doesn’t this amount to a state aid subsidy?

    If not, it’s sure to make for an easy agreement – Charles is bound to be on the side of rural development.

    • Avatar DTMark

      But I thought the whole point of BT, if there is one, is that it already has all the ducts and poles ready to use with all the way-leaves already sorted..

    • Avatar Chris Conder

      Regarding the farmers and wayleaves… if its for the benefit of themselves (ie the only way they will ever get a decent connection) AND also for the benefit of the community they live in, then they will give you free wayleaves, and most of them will either dig it in themselves for shares, or will buy shares to pay a contractor to dig their bit for them.
      That isn’t my opinion, its just a fact.
      I am very proud of our farming community here at B4RN, only two farmers have been ‘awkward’ and one changed his mind and let the dig through. We have had 2 councillors with bits of land in a village who wouldn’t give wayleaves but the the community dug round them. So from about 100 landowner only 1 farmer has said no, and we have found a way round him too.
      The other rural dwellers are the neighbours of these landowners, and are usually volunteers on their area, or shareholders helping to pay for the duct. Its a real community effort, and I hope Wansdyke has as many people of grit as we do up here in the North. It is just a crying shame that groups who JFDI have no support from government, as this is the way to move the agenda forward, stimulate competition and help those on long line lengths. FTTC and copper are so yesterday. There is no existing infrastructure worth using in rural areas, most copper is lying along fields or in hedgerows or strung through trees as ancient poles collapse, openreach don’t seem to be replacing them. If a community wanted to use them (PIA) they would have to pay for their renewal, so they might as well buy their own.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Thanks Chris.

      Its obviously a key economic fundamental of the project – that enough landowners measure their personal loss vs the community gain vs their personal gain, and take part.

  3. Avatar Sledgehammer

    Looking down the other end of the telescope, 50+% of us are going to be wholely reliant on BT for higher speeds (irespective of which ISP you choose),the other 40% will have a option of using Virgin. Not a good position to be in if you do not have access to a alternative supply.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Yes, but you will only be reliant on them (ie Openreach) for the access network – the portion back to the exchange head-end. At that point, your choice of ISP means that you get the choice between different suppliers of backhaul & core network. That could be BTW-based, but could be Sky or TalkTalk.

      In that sense, little is different from ADSL2+: provision of an LLU line still depended on Openreach for the access network.

      I think the numbers are slightly out too: 40% will have the choice of access network between BT and Virgin; 10% will have only Virgin; 40% will have only BT; 10% unknown for now. Anyone else is likely to be too small to notice; even KC will be less than 1%.

    • Avatar DTMark

      It’s still only a single infrastructure and a weak one at that. Lowest common denominator.

      With 3600m of copper and/or aluminium, there are no broadband offerings available here via that network over ADSL, just really slow narrowband which is useless. Having a choice of who I pay the bill to does not make for anything faintly interesting. 3G walks all over it.

      Fast-forward to VDSL with poor line plant quality and a 1280m D-side and this remains the case. 4G will, most likely, walk all over that – there’s no way that will hit 20Meg upstream which 4G manages with ease.

      And VDSL is supposed to be “NGA” – giggles 😉

    • Avatar MikeW

      I don’t think anyone truly believes that VDSL2 *is* NGA. Just that it can be.

      The trick is figuring out the boundary between where it is and isn’t.

      The same is true of 4G – It will prove to be NGA for some, but not others. If we try to support too many premises on 4G, we’ll soon wish we’d plumped for FTTC instead, or jumping back to ADSL.

      It’ll be a matter of figuring out the boundary there too.

  4. Wansdyke Telecom are local people who are (like many of us in NE Somerset) fed up with the prospect of slow broadband for the foreseeable future. They are actually doing something about it. Last time I checked, taking action to address a situation which is clearly unacceptable is still allowed. I hope people faced with slow broadband in NE Somerset will give them the support they need to make this happen.

  5. Avatar dragoneast

    When I was last involved in that sort of work (several years ago) EU procurement rules for the supply of goods and services didn’t apply to the disposal of land interests (e.g. wayleaves as well as sales and leases). It always seemed to me to be an irony that as we’ve become richer we look more and more to the state as the funder if not the provider. Self-help was how most of our infrastructure was provided before the twentieth century.

  6. It is good to hear about another group adopting the JFDI strategy. Isolated rural communities have always had to rely upon themselves and one another. What might have been called a weakness by the Metrolops is going to be a strength. Rest of the world – here we come.

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