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John Henry Group Reveals the Obstacles to Building UK Fibre Optic Networks

Monday, September 25th, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 5,274

Mark Heraghty, Non-Executive Chairman of civil engineering firm the John Henry Group, has told ISPreview.co.uk that FTTP lines are the “only real future proof” broadband solution for the UK, but issues with notice and permit schemes, training and wayleaves can hurt progress.

JHG has been around for 30 years and they’re currently one of the fastest growing integrated service providers in the United Kingdom, providing total partnership solutions to companies and organisations seeking to maintain and grow their telecoms or highway infrastructure footprints.

The group started life by helping BT to build their national network and they’re also heavily involved with Virgin Media’s current £3bn Project Lighting network expansion. As a result of that the company now employs more than 1,300 people across 9 offices and depots in the United Kingdom. Suffice to say that they know a thing or two about building next generation broadband infrastructure.

jhg narrow trench digging wide

According to Mark Heraghty, the roll-out of “ultrafast” Gigabit capable Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP / FTTH) broadband networks is starting to pick up pace but there are still some areas that need serious improvement. For example, Heraghty complains that they’ve sometimes “had to wait months for the granting of a wayleave” (land access agreement).

Training is another area of concern because the amount of new network builds being planned over the coming months is putting a strain on existing resources. On this point Heraghty warns that “there simply isn’t the quality resource available to realise the ambitions of all ISPs at the present time” and as such he calls for “training centres with approved accreditations” to be formed specifically for FTTH construction in the UK.

Noticing and permit schemes have also been causing headaches for civil engineering firms and Heraghty recommends a simplified process in order to reduce the “amount of detail and timing required” to notice new builds. However these are only some of the challenges involved with building such infrastructure and our full interview covers plenty of other areas.

The John Henry Group Interview

1. Can you tell us a bit about the history of JHG, such as how it came into existence and what you do differently, if anything, from the rest of the market?

John Henry Group was established 30 years ago, initially working to provide civil engineering services for BT, repairing and building telecoms networks.

Having grown considerably in the past 30 years, the company is experienced further growth of about 35% per cent over the past two financial years and now employs more than 1,300 people across nine offices, offering a national footprint as a partner to major ISP clients, as well as alternative, blue chip and public sector network providers and start-up businesses.

John Henry Group is a recognised innovator. For example, it was the firm behind forward-thinking winning Geo-sight safety and performance technology and narrow trenching civil engineering solutions (not to be confused with micro trenching). The technique allows for telecoms networks to be built at a reduced costs and at a much faster speed than a conventional civils works.

2. Perhaps one of the past year’s biggest events was the Brexit vote to leave the European Union. What are your thoughts on how leaving the EU in a couple of years’ time might impact your company and how you work, if at all?

In terms of future operatives and management, we are investing heavily in an internal academy and an apprentice’s scheme. The internal academy aims to scout and train members of staff in the business in specific skills sets to help them advance in their career in telecoms and highways related workstreams.

However, of the main challenges for the John Henry Group will be the global mobility challenge around the resourcing of staff/labour to support our projects. The UK currently has a major shortage of civil engineering personnel and in the current climate, there is an increased shortfall due to the ‘boom’ we are experiencing with the construction and maintenance of telecoms networks.

As a result, we have had to look abroad to Europe to find gangs and crews that we can train to work on UK telecoms networks to bridge the gap in the labour market. There may be some concern surrounding the mobility of these engineers and telecoms gang members after we leave the EU and we await the outcome of what leaving the EU will mean in relation to mobility and movement of people across the continent.

Continued on the next page..

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
16 Responses
  1. John Devine says:

    All the in fighting with providers in this country is not doing the customer , no the country any good. What we need is for all utilities to come together to provide one conduit to the home. There is aleady one conduit that is provided to the home that an engineering solution can use and that is the water pipe. We all know in engineering the power of water and this could be used to force the optical fibre through to the premises. No doubt many people will see flaws in this assertion of mine but all engineers usually overcome these in time given the right resources.

    1. TheFacts says:

      Apart from taps and meters in the way and access.

    2. Optimist says:

      I’ve seen a video, Denmark I think it was, where a trench is dug and a multi-conduit cable for gas, water, electricity, telecoms, each colour-coded, is laid along the route in one go. Much quicker than each utility doing its own.

    3. CarlT says:

      Sounds great, but even if you can get past the meter the fibre is getting broken if the stop cock ever has to be closed.

    4. Steve Jones says:

      One of the more impractical ideas I’ve ever heard. What about water meters, stop cocks not to mention blocking water pipes.

    5. Peter says:

      Not to mention what happens when the water pipe needs maintenance on it.
      Does the fibre company simply get told to remove the fibre as is like ‘now’?

      There was some ideas along these lines of using sewer pipes
      however the above issue put a stop to it being progressed any further as I recall.

    6. TheManStan says:

      It works very well in Paris because the sewers are huge, they can run along the top and minimal feeds to lots of MDUs rather than individual houses.

    7. Steve Jones says:


      Read the proposal again. It was to use water, not sewage pipes. Indeed it proposed using the force of water to propel the fibre through the network of pipes in the first place.

      On the subject of using sewer pipes for broadband it has, of course, been mooted in the UK but at least one proposal to do so turned out to be not just impractical, but resulted in a fraud conviction, and not just a little one either.


  2. John Devine says:

    Steve,Carl who said it had to go through stop cocks and meter!? Peter, i have lived in 5 houses in the last 40 years and the water stop cock only needed attention when a new kitchen went in. A 2.5mm diameter optical fibre is small compared to a 13mm diameter water pipe. Optomist and TheManStan have had some positive experience of this, so i think it needs consideration. All the best and thanks for your feedback, john.

    1. TheFacts says:

      Clearly you cannot put a fibre through a tap.

      With new builds the installation of services can be coordinated.

    2. Peter says:

      My main incomming stop cock gets closed every time I go away for an extended period over the winter – it is an insurance requirement.

    3. Steve Jones says:

      Really, you think it’s acceptable every time that somebody closes a stop cock to do some minor work on the house plumbing that you have to run the fibre through again (that’s assuming you can even turn the water off in the first place. Also, how is this thing to work with water meters?

      As for the clogging on the water pipes, we aren’t talking about one fibre. We are talking about one for each property. They will also all have to be separate or else how is each fibre to be fed through? So you are going to have the water feed pipe running down the road full of a seething mass of dozens, if not many hundreds of individual optical fibre cables, which will have to be well protected as they get washed around by the flowing water.

      Not, of course, that you’d ever get all those fibres run to each house. You might succeed with the first few, but as you put down more and more then the danger of a tangle will get worse and worse.

      Then there’s little problem of trying to persuade the fibre to do a right angle turn down the T junction off the main down the road. Even if you turn the flow on full, most of the water is going to still be going down the mains to other houses and the fibre will want to go straight on. You would, of course, have to carry out this action and run fibres house by house.

      Oh, and then there’s the other problem. Optical fibre has a minimum bend radius. It’s typically about 15 times that of the cable, so that’s almost a 4 centimetre radius. It’s necessary to both protect the internal fibre and to maintain the integrity of the optical path (as optical fibre will only “turn” light through a particular rate of angle or it can impact the path’s optical properties.

      So where that fibre makes it’s right angle turn into the feeder pipe for each house it’s going to stick out into the water flow. Of course if thee are any tight right angle bends in your feeder pipe, you might be completely stuffed anyway.

      This one should have been left in the brainstorming session.

  3. tonyp says:

    I’ve long held the view that local authorities should provide wayleaves for gas, water, electricity and telecoms. Then require the utility companies to use them to avoid digging up roads time and time again. Plus a tidy fee for usage to offset the initial cost. It won’t happen though!

    Running F.O. comms through water company pipes is not new since Cable & Wireless (before it was sold on) bought the London Hydraulic Power company, a moribund ‘utility’ that provided hydraulic power for lifts before electricity took over. Although these conduits are not filled, they are still wet (and I understand not trouble free). C&W wanted LHP for its conduits already in place and stretching across London.

    1. MikeW says:

      How would an LA giving wayleaves avoid roads being dug up?

    2. Steve Jones says:

      Telecoms ducting is often not try in the first place. Whilst some runs are (positive air pressure can be used to help keep it so), that’s not what most ducts are like. With telecoms it’s the cable itself and its sheathing which is the waterproofing layer (some city-centre service tunnels apart).

      As for those pipes previously owned by the London Hydraulic Company they are in no way comparable to a water distribution network. They were of relatively large diameter and fed their (relatively few) business customers through large diameter pipes. They were redundant when reused. An active supply network with feeds to every small property is a different thing again.

  4. John Devine says:

    Thanks for all the insights and feedback. Before i posted I aleady considered the old adage “NOTHING VENTURED, NOTHING GAINED!”.

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