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Rural Scottish Communities Help to Dig BT’s Gigabit FTTP Broadband Lines

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017 (11:17 am) - Score 1,240

Openreach (BT) is funding a new trial in Scotland that involves the deployment of a Gigabit capable Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) broadband network to the tiny remote rural Caithness and Sutherland communities of Altnaharra (45 premises) and Skerray by Bettyhill (100 premises).

The new roll-out is different because it’s being 100% funded out of Openreach’s own pocket and they’re building fibre optic lines from new nodes off the spines direct to local properties (often covering much longer distances than normal). Villagers from both communities are also helping to dig at least part of the network (i.e. making it easier to reach the most remote homes), which takes a leaf out of B4RN’s book and also makes it cheaper.

In Altnaharra, the Altnaharra Estate will dig in new cable which crosses its land. Meanwhile, in Skerray, residents who live some distance from the core network have agreed to dig in sections of cable to their properties, to specifications agreed with Openreach (ISPreview.co.uk understands that this is being promoted to locals as a “dig your own” product).

The project is also likely to be of particular benefit to residents of Skerray, where Openreach’s existing copper cables are buried under the local beach and have thus suffered regular damage from lightning strikes. Slow and unstable connectivity are often the result of such incidents, as well as the potential for complete service failure.

Clive Selley, Openreach’s CEO, said:

“As our core fibre spines penetrate even deeper into rural Scotland, it brings new opportunities to improve broadband speeds for remote communities.

In Altnaharra and Skerray we’re assessing a new concept, building fibre from new nodes off the spines direct to local properties with support from the local communities. This builds on recent partnership and commercial investments in the Highlands and Islands.

We’ll test how we can use the spines to reach very rural communities, and the distances over which we can use fibre effectively. Our learning from these innovative trials will inform our wider fibre strategy and could potentially help us to reach other very remote communities around the UK.

The two pilot communities will see their broadband speeds jump dramatically, as well as improvements to their existing services, so this is a win-win situation.”

Openreach have of course already deployed plenty of pure fibre optic lines to remote rural communities and we’ve also seen them work with local support before too (e.g. the Fell End Broadband project in Ravenstonedale, Cumbria), although their new initiative appears to go a lot further.

Such close community engagement on the civil engineering front remains rare for Openreach and it will be interesting to see if this now becomes more common, particularly as many of the remaining areas left to cover would be very expensive to deliver without help from volunteers. The alternative would require a huge public subsidy.

Sadly Openreach has not revealed any information about the cost of these deployments or their time-scale. We also note that around 200 premises in Bettyhill have already been catered for via the local state aid supported Digital Scotland project and slower (up to 80Mbps) FTTC technology.

Leave a Comment
11 Responses
  1. Avatar NGA for all

    Great to see. This build and benefit approach was tested in Fell End and is one dimension of ‘Fibre on Demand’.

    • Nothing at all to do with the product called Fibre on Demand by Openreach, please stop misleading people.

      Once the fibres are in place on this project the products will start with the up to 38 Mbps product and the usual pricing, so none of the price premium FoD commands.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      Andrew 1.) 2013 Fibre on Demand was an extension service with £40 wholesale rentals.
      2.) Trials for FoD with 75% discount where the same kit is used for FTTP-GPON also shows the relationship.
      3.) Read the roll of FoD commitment to the Welsh Government, which assumes FTTP-GPON is orderable in all exchanges.
      It is confusing where fibre is being treated as a replacement for copper, and in other locations the same cables are being used to present or attempt to preserve a premium service like EAD for single customer.
      It is misleading to suggest these are different components. They are different bits of BT doing slightly different things with the same underlying components.

    • A lot could be said about the Welsh Government’s position on FoD / FTTPoD, but we’re talking about Scotland here. FoD doesn’t have a role in the announcement, it’s a different product (premium business solution for SMEs) with a very different focus. The story above is focused on ‘native’ FTTP for residential consumers (shorter contracts, cheaper prices, different focus etc.).

    • Avatar AndyH

      @ NGA “It is misleading to suggest these are different components”

      It is misleading for you to keep mentioning native GEA-FTTP and FoD as the same!

      FoD is a completely bespoke product, designed for SME. It requires a custom build from the exchange to the end user’s premises.

      The pricing is irrelevant. You can see that the fact that EAD circuits and FoD have comparable installation costs, reflecting the not too dissimilar amount of work needed to build the circuits.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      Andrew, you cannot ignore FoD’s origins or the commonality of components used to make a connection. Yes, today BT use FoD in a rigid way to punish a single customer with all the extension costs for a single EAD. It does not need to be the case! Your saying it is beyond the wit of BT to do fibre extensions for more than one customer at a time. OR announced FTTP om demand at every exchange in q4 -2014. You think that was in isolation of the BDUK contractual requirements!

      Mark – Wales and Scotland work to a near identical set of data transport requirements and rely on the same BT mixed economy solution which was budgeted but where FTTP was forgotten about for 3 years. The £446m capital accrual owed by BT is just one measure of how much FTTP in-fill was and is needed to complete the task expected.

      OR data transport is engineered to be homogenous. There are not separate network planning rules in Wales and Scotland.

      While it is appropriate to salute progress, the limitations of the cabinet solution needs to be acknowledged so in-fill component is not forgotten.

  2. Avatar Doctor Colossus

    You’re welcome here as well – just tell me where to dig!!!

  3. we built the fell end project the community raised the money to pay us,there is a lot of confusion between volunteers and profesional companys doing the build,i would love to see volunteers doing a job like fell end.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      I assume they can contact with you to do the same job, laying km of duct to a particular depth and standard. What is the variation in rates per kilometre?

  4. I have unlimited fiber and I was wondering when we will be getting FTTP in Anstruther?

  5. Avatar Catriona MacLeod

    Both communities mentioned in the article are in Sutherland, within 40 miles of each other.

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