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Community Dig Brings Openreach FTTP Broadband to Remote Scottish Estate

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017 (11:57 am) - Score 1,090

Around 60 homes and businesses in the remote rural Sutherland hamlet of Altnaharra (Scotland) can now access Openreach’s (BT) new 330Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) “ultrafast broadband” network, thanks to new equipment and a community dig to lay 4,800 metres of cable.

The significant cost of deploying “full fibre” networks into rural areas remains a huge barrier for large commercial operators like Openreach, although the company claims that they’ve already halved those costs over the last year and the lessons they’ve learnt from Altnaharra (a 36,600-acre estate) will inform their wider strategy (including the aim to build a large-scale FTTP network, possibly to as many as 10 million UK premises by around 2025).

The details on this PILOT are frustratingly thin, although we know that Openreach tried some sort of new “network configuration” in the area and they also made use of a specialist digging machine called the Ditch Witch to help quickly bury armoured cable into the soft roadside verges (note: our picture is from a similar Openreach pilot and Ditch Witch’s also come in several different forms).

However one of the most interesting developments was the fact that Openreach were able to involve workers from the Altnaharra Estate, who helped to dig in around 4,800 metres of cable. This will no doubt have saved quite a bit of money. Unfortunately the exact details of the arrangement are not known, although we have seen them use the community approach before and even Virgin Media have tested something similar.

Clive Selley, Openreach CEO, said:

“We promised the people of Altnaharra and Skerray their new ultrafast services by this autumn, and we’ve delivered to the majority in Altnaharra ahead of schedule and are on track in Skerray.

They’ll see their internet connections rocket from some of the slowest speeds in Scotland to some of the fastest, and it’s great to hear that the first local residents and businesses are already making use of the new, ultrafast network.

We’re 100 per cent committed to using our digital expertise and innovation to bring high speed services to as many remote communities as possible, including supporting the Scottish Government in their ambition to reach every premises in Scotland.”

The first ultrafast fibre services have also gone live in nearby Skerray, with engineers from Openreach continuing work over the “next few weeks” to reach more households and outlying Altnaharra properties. Previously many local properties struggled to get even 1Mbps, let along 330Mbps.

Hopefully the “unique partnership” demonstrated in Altnaharra will soon become much more common.

UPDATE 12:55pm

We got a bit more detail on the concepts that Openreach have tried during the pilot.

* In Altnaharra and Skerray they’re assessing a new concept, building fibre from new nodes off the spines direct to local properties with support from the local communities

* In Altnaharra, the Altnaharra Estate dug in new cable which crosses its land while in Skerray, residents who live some distance from the core network agreed to dig in sections of cable to their properties.

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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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13 Responses
  1. MikeW


    I wonder if this worked because the estate is so large, so it represented only one land owner.

  2. Steve Jones

    Of course this chap put in 1.2km pretty well by himself with materials provided by Openreach. Note, maybe, an option available to many of us…


    • NGA for all

      Very uplifting.

    • Steve Jones

      I meant not available to most of us of course…

    • NGA for all

      The build and benefit model was imbedded in the BDUK requirements and can be aligned with FoD in support of several thousand of these where needed.

    • AndyH

      @ NGA – Why do you keep referring to FoD? It’s native GEA-FTTP that would be delivered to thousands.

      @ Steve – OR are keen to reduce the cost of trenching as much as possible. As their Investor Briefing (http://btplc.com/Sharesandperformance/Quarterlyresults/Investormeetingpack.pdf) shows, they are using new kit to reduce the cost and increase the deployment rate.

    • MikeW


      The significant differences in that document compared to 3 months ago are:
      – Removal of LR-VDSL as a possibility for reaching beyond 95% superfast coverage
      – Addition of FTTP as a possibility for that same 95%+ superfast coverage

      The detail for the FTTP option indicates:
      – Trialling trenching machines currently
      – 300m a day for as little as £3 per metre
      – duct laid 6 times quicker than before

      I guess that implies it is for areas where they aren’t trying to use existing ducts.

  3. Ultraspeedy

    Great to see what is achievable when people work together.

  4. RuralBroadbandSucks

    Does this mean anyone can apply to put their own FTTP line in?
    I would be up for it, as there seems to be no intention of bringing Fermanagh & South Tyrone Northern Ireland into line with everyone else.
    Thinkbroadband say we are ranked 649 out of 650, and the MP’s, MEP’s and Local Government say there is nothing we can do, as BT run the show over here. I guess the £150million the DUP arranged for ‘ultrafast broadband’ is being syphoned off somewhere as I type.
    My ADSL/CTTP line is approx 4km long, and all but 1 road crossing and approx 100m where it disappears underground, is provided overhead from wonky telegraph poles which installed during WWII (statement according to one BT engineer, not sure how true that is though).
    I am pretty sure I can manage as shoddy a job as the current setup.

    • RuralBroadbandSucks

      Forgot to add, I also checked the wholesale checker, and it now has an extra line that says “FTTP on Demand 330/30 and WBC FTTP Availability Date is Available.

    • Optimist

      Is wireless broadband worth considering?

    • MikeW

      If you are the landowner, I’m sure you can reach some agreement with them.

      Mind you, if you are the landowner, then putting a mast up at the top of the dip would be possible too.

  5. RuralBroadbandSucks

    Not really, unless someone can put up a mast.
    I dont get a mobile signal here and am in a dip surrounded by trees and hills.
    I mapped out all the wifi connections within a few miles using a Raspberry PI running kismet, a usb GPS, and an external 9dBi USB Wifi card. I have multiple BT lines here joined with pfsense just to get me a workable internet connection.
    BT allows me to use BT Fon, and I can match the better speeds to a village which is 1 mile away but my line comes from approx 2.5-3 miles from a village in the other direction, and Openreach said they cannot/will not move my line to the closer village even if I paid for it.
    I used a TP-Link TL-ANT2424B 24 dBi directional antenna to see if I can get any of those good wifi connections with anything around 1Mbit, but all I get are fantastic connections to the local neighbours who also get bad speeds, and BT FON only allocate a small % of the full connection.

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