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UPDATE B4RN Expand 1Gbps FTTH Broadband to Rural Suffolk and Norfolk

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017 (1:37 am) - Score 2,948
b4rn_street_cabinet_on_tractor

The plucky rural ISP B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North), which has been deploying their 1Gbps community built and funded fibre optic (FTTP/H) broadband network to remote homes in Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire, has now connected 3270 properties and is expanding into Suffolk and Norfolk.

As a quick reminder, B4RN’s ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Home (“full fibre“) network has been constructed with the help of tireless volunteers from local communities across their patch, which is often done in exchange for shares instead of cash. After starting small they’re now seeing rapid growth and currently aim to connect 150 properties per month (they hit 162 in June and thus beat the target). All profits go back into the community and also help to build/manage their network.

b4rn coverage map july 2017
B4RNs Coverage Map (Approximate Area of Work)

Today B4RN is home to 21 staff and they still need to fill another 3 vacancies. The provider has also built their own Civil Engineering Team and recently appointed a finance director, Andrew Brocklehurst. B4RN’s outgoing CEO, Barry Ford, told ISPreview.co.uk: “We expect to achieve around £1.5M of revenue from services in the current financial year. Loans and shares from the community have reached about £6.5M.

Suffice to say that the provider has done an amazing job and along the way they’ve proven plenty of critics wrong. ISPreview.co.uk has now learnt that B4RN have setup a new East Anglia group within the same company, which is to focus on extending their network to serve a number of rural parishes in Suffolk and Norfolk (England).

In order to do that the operator has leased some Dark Fibre from Zayo – running from Telehouse North out to Lowestoft – and will be lighting the fibre with 40 channel Dense Wavelength-Division Multiplexing (DWDM) in the same way as their Manchester to Edinburgh route. The official go live date is being tentatively set for late August 2017. Related peering with LONAP is also on their imminent radar.

Coverage details are expected to be announced shortly and B4RN anticipates the future possibility of being able to expand into several more areas, although it’s too early to confirm those. This is an important development because the new coverage is not contiguous with their existing footprint in the North West of England.

Finally, regular readers will also know that the Lancashire Council and Openreach (BT) have established somewhat of a history when it comes to overbuilding parts of B4RN’s network via the use of state aid (public funding), which many view as unfair and a waste of tax payers money (examples here and here). However these days the tables have turned and now it’s B4RN’s time to overbuild the big boys, albeit with their own money.

Barry Ford, CEO of B4RN, said:

“Areas like Hornby have now had a full B4RN build out despite having an exchange and FTTC [Openreach] cabinet. Work is underway in Halton and also Caton, both exchange areas. Also a number of areas got shiny new FTTC cabinets and since then we have moved in.

We have now filled in all the holes and our footprint is getting close to 100% without holes. Still a lot of work to do but the direction of travel is clear. Where BT do an overbuild we never lose a customer, where we overbuild them we achieve at least a 50% takeup.”

As in other areas, the provider benefits from a strong history of direct community funding and engagement. Locals often assist in building the network and thus feel incentivised to take B4RN’s service, which has helped to produce take-up figures that will be the envy of their rivals.

Customers pay just £30 per month for a 1000Mbps (symmetrical) unlimited service and there’s also a one-off connection fee of £150, which is absurdly cheap when you consider that it’s a Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P) style network. Of course none of this would be possible without all those excellent volunteers. JFDI.

UPDATE 5th July 2017

As expected B4RN has today officially announced their Broadband for Rural Norfolk Ltd (B4RNorfolk) division (B4RN East Anglia if you prefer), which actually started life as an independent group before becoming part of the wider company. The other thing to note is that the announcement appears to confirm that some parishes in Essex may also benefit, so it’s not just Norfolk and Suffolk being targeted.

Michael Davey, B4RN East Anglia’s Regional Director, said:

“B4RNorfolk was created entirely from the needs of the community, from people coming together and saying enough is enough, we’ve got to do something about rural broadband. B4RNorfolk was what the community set up to deliver it.

The key for rural broadband is not connecting fast fibre to the ageing copper and aluminium cables (known as Fibre-To-The-Cabinet, or FTTC) as this dramatically slows the speed and does nothing to prevent the constant breaks caused by the ancient infrastructure.

The answer is to bring a fast, reliable fibre connection to each property (known as Fibre-To-The-Home, or FTTH), thus putting our rural communities at the cutting edge of digital communications technology.”

The official announcement doesn’t add much to our original report above but we do learn that the first homes could be reached by the end of 2017 and those are likely to be among the following list of initial candidate locations.

As usual we wouldn’t be surprised if Openreach (BT) sees some of these and begins another one of their overbuilding efforts in areas that haven’t previously been planned for an upgrade, which is certainly one way to speed-up the roll-out of faster connectivity.

COMMUNITIES ROUTE PLANNING B4RNORFOLK

* Billingford
* Kirby Cane (volunteers needed to help route plan; further community champions needed)

COMMUNITIES EXPRESSING AN INTEREST IN B4RNORFOLK

Following interest from communities expressing an interest in joining B4RNorfolk, we are now inviting the following communities to put together a small management team and to register an interest:

* Kirby Bedon, Whitlingham and Whitlingham Hall
* Bramerton
* Rockland St Mary
* Claxton
* Carleton St Peter
* Langley with Hardley
* Stubbs Green area and rural fringe of Loddon parish
* Gelderston
* Gillingham (volunteers needed to help route plan; further community champions needed)
* Ellingham (volunteers needed to help route plan; further community champions needed)
* Broome
* Stockton
* Hales
* Hellington
* Surlingham
* Horringer
* Tivetshall St. Margaret, Tivetshall St. Mary, Shimpling, Upper Street & Thelveton
* Burston, Rushall, Brockdish, Thorpe Abbots
* Rocklands, Attleborough, Old Buckenham, Ash Rode, Tibenham & Gissing
* Thurton

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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18 Responses
  1. dragoneast

    Good. Rural East Anglia is often the forgotten part of the country (at least in the media, so for the rest of us as well, except perhaps for a couple of weeks to get away from it all – literally – in the summer). The Waveney Valley/Broadland seem as good a place as any to start, not least due to both its neglect by modern infrastructure – try to find a mobile phone signal, for instance – but its proximity to the linking infrastructure of the more heavily populated coast too. What initiatives there have been seem to fizzle out or stall – for lack, I suspect of supporting – expensive but unseen – infrastructure. There is an arc of neglect stretching across from the Waveney Vally, across the equally neglected North Norfolk and into the Norfolk and Cambridgeshire Fens, which never makes the headlines, which has potential for B4RN-type initiatives. I’ll be interested to see whether both the locals and the (often large and remote) landowners are as co-operative too. I certainly hope so because local initiatives should have a very secure place in the future, especially when B4RN’s (a rename might be necessary) looks future-proofed too. Horses for courses. I’m not a BT or virgin hater. They do what they do well. But that doesn’t mean they serve everyone well, and especially not scattered low population hamlets and villages remote from towns, and even other places too where there is no decent existing infrastructure to build on.

    • dragoneast

      It’s another facet of the same problem we face everywhere in the West. Politics (= life) needs the quick fix, reflecting the voracious demands of the 24 hour media and the advertisers; that’s all of us, then. But to do anything properly takes time and patience. Hard, when we have the attention span of a gnat. Small is beautiful as in nature, as long as it escapes the attentions of the predators.

  2. Walter G M Willcox

    There has been a very natural tendency to continue cobbling “quick fixes” so the ageing PSTN is still largely all that is available in rural areas. Hence Superfast hasn’t been the success that it should have been and we all suffer from its unreliability particularly at the higher frequencies.

    Along come the Altnets who have the supreme luxury of new build from nothing so they are nearly all providing symmetric services without the commercial strains of running separate expensive symmetric business services in parallel with all the domestic asymmetric ones. It’s particularly good for the Altnets as more realise they require symmetric services for the increasing use of e.g. Google Drive cloud computing facilities.

  3. Shoey

    This is exciting news, a lot of rural suffolk has no fibre and where I am everyone is less than 2mb with no hope. The village keeps getting promised that it’s in the next phase of the county’s upgrade scheme to be constantly forgotten while neighbouring villages are being upgraded.

    There is only one provider who covers 4G in the area where other providers can’t even provide any signal.

  4. “they still need to fill another 3 vacancies” however their website says “currently there are no vacancies” Filled already?

    • Can’t speak for B4RN, but their website isn’t likely to be as current as the info. that Barry sent me yesterday.

    • chris conder

      I am not ‘speaking for B4rn’ either, but as far as I know the closing date for the latest three jobs has passed so we’ll soon know who has got them. I guess there will be more jobs advertised soon, the company is growing fast.

  5. WellsNorfolk

    Be interested to see if FTTH/P ever comes to Wells-next-the-Sea as it’d be a huge boost for the Town.

  6. MikeW

    Great to see a standalone project start up, on a separate run of backhaul. Presumably the backup routing will aim towards Amsterdam in the future!

    It is correct to say that B4RN connections cost £30pm, with a £150 connection fee. It is right to point out that it depends on the largesse of the squad of volunteers to carry out the work.

    But it sets the wrong expectations if people believe this is all that is needed…

    Missing is the generosity of the land-owners, who need to offer wayleaves over their property for free. Compared to commercial operators, this is worth about £500 per year, for each km of fibre.

    Also missing is the need for the community to raise a significant chunk of money for the materials for the volunteers to work with, either through share purchases, donations, or loans. IIRC, the original amounts were around £1,500 per property for the core routes, but the recent “add-on” parishes seem to be nearer £1,000 per property.

    That money should, eventually, be repaid. But it is needed up front.

    • chris conder

      The people don’t mind putting money up, they get good interest on it. They like to support a community project. Those who can’t afford it brew tea or bake cakes if they can. Or help neighbours dig duct in. Some do all three. The landowners would rather waive payment for wayleaves in return for getting a connection that costs them a fraction of what an openreach one would. It is all about people helping each other and reaping the benefits. And the benefit is to be part of the best residential network in the world. And the best network of people, because we’ve built that at the same time. We have also converted every £1 invested into £10 of assets, that will continue to benefit the community for many years to come.

    • Any expansion of B4RN activities outside it’s original Business Plan is of concern to it’s existing investors. This point was made to them at this years AGM (see the report on their web site).

      I have been reporting my concerns about their financial status since they started up. You can see this years observations on our Village Blog at: http://www.whittingtonvillage.org.uk/blog/b4rn-2017-accounts/.

      The benefit that B4RN was supposed to bring to the community, through excess of Income over Expenditure was to support community schemes (not Broadband) in their sphere of influence.

      It was also to repay Investors and provide interest on their investment. Their business Plan still shows an excess of Income over Expenditure for every year from 2013 onwards. This has not happened.

      All of us in the Lune Valley would dearly love to see B4RN succeed but there are deep concerns that their problem may be that they are over trading. Expansion into East Anglia is bound to bring concerns.

      However. The very best of luck to you all.

  7. bob

    “JFDI”

    Look, what B4RN are doing is extremely admirable and delivering service to people that would never have got service otherwise… But let’s not get carried away. The business case breaks down as soon as they get anywhere near any sort of built up area. It’s taken circa 6 years to get the coverage they have now. And I’m not entirely clear on whether money for new areas is entirely ring fenced from paying for previous deployment and loans.

    I’d love to see a small outfit stick it to the big boys, but I don’t see any desire for B4RN to go after public money, or pick up easy areas like new devs. There’s seemingly no evolution of the business model to penetrate into towns and cities.

    It’s like seeing a ferry company claim they are competing against P&O because they’ve set up a route between Shetland and Orkney where the passengers have to build their own boat and row across themselves. An impressive technical feat, but not something that could ever worry the big boys.

    • Walter G M Willcox

      Whilst I would agree that entering central Lancaster is highly unlikely “The business case breaks down as soon as they get anywhere near any sort of built up area.” is not an accurate reflection of B4RN’s progress in villages both small and large.

      In the five years that they have been operational, starting in Easter 2012, they have reached a large number of remote properties that the large Telcos and mobile operators have utterly failed to do. Some don’t even have electricity and rely on strange-tasting borehole water.

    • Steve

      Bob, I think you’ve missed the point completely. The R in B4RN stands for *Rural*

      They are providing a vital service to rural villages that have been completely abandoned and let down by the traditional telcos. So in that sense they most certainly are sticking it to the big boys.

  8. DTMark

    Can you do Scotland next?

    Apart from a few green dots outside towns, and forgetting ADSL (hasn’t everyone?) it appears that about 95% of the land-mass is completely devoid of any broadband services whatsoever.

    I realise it might take a while, but even if someone set out on foot from Gretna heading north with a reel of cable it’s bound to be quicker than waiting for the Scottish government.

    • Walter G M Willcox

      You might like to take an inquisitive stroll around Crawford.
      You might also note that B4RN have fibre routes to Glasgow and Edinburgh but I’d be the first to admit that’s an awful long way from covering Scotland.

      Balqhidder are doing something now too I think.

  9. Lesley Marsden

    Better Broadband For East Ruston (BB4ER) is based in North Norfolk we are a group of people passionate about improving the broadband provision for our village. We have completed a survey of our village to find out what everyone else felt and surprise surprise the majority are not happy.We were surprised to find out how many people were trying to run businesses with very poor broadband provision. We have met with the BDUK project officer and a BT director and are convinced from what they have told us and what we have learnt, that we have to JFDI !
    This announcement is absolutely fantastic news for our area and we know there are already initiatives underway in South Norfolk helped by their tireless champion Michael Davey who is also supporting our initiative and has just become the CEO of B4RN East Anglia.
    We now need to galvanise the rest of the North Norfolk population…….

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