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B4RN East Anglia Connect First Rural Premises to 1Gbps Broadband

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 1,526
b4rn east anglia build

At the end of last year the B4RN East Anglia (B4RNorfolk) ISP began construction of a new community built and funded “hyperfast” Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband network for rural villages in parts of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex (England). Today the first properties have been connected.

Until recently the long-running B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) project had only focused upon deploying their 1Gbps (Gigabit) capable “full fibre” network to some of the most isolated rural homes in Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. Such work is normally too expensive for small rural villages but B4RN overcomes this by harnessing local volunteers to help build the network (usually in exchange for shares instead of cash).

However the team had long aspired to expand beyond their current area and in July 2017 they soft launched a new division to do just that: B4RN East Anglia (here). Construction of the new network finally began at the end of December 2017 (here) and their fibre optic cable has now reached the large village of Scole in Norfolk (on the border with Suffolk), which is home to around 1,400 people.

So far in 2018, the Scole community has installed approximately 7kms of duct with the help of B4RN’s engineers. The first property to go live is the Scole Community Centre but locals homes will follow and the team are already in the process of raising enough investment to reach Billingford, Upper Street, Thelveton and Shimpling.

On top of that they’ve confirmed that Gissing, Tivetshalls and Thwaite “are expected to be the next communities to extend the B4RN network.” Gissing and Tivetshalls have already been mapped, costed and are now additionally seeking investment from their respective residents. Many more areas could follow and you can get a rough idea of the initial fibre route (Scole) below.

scole b4rn fibre deployment map

As usual B4RN’s approach works best for “soft digs” (i.e. building over farm land rather than urban streets) and they hope to have achieved a total of 5,000 UK connections (currently 4,200+) by the end of this summer, which represents actual live users and not “premises passed“. The nature of B4RN’s deployment makes it tricky to give an accurate figure for premises passed, although technically it should be a fair bit higher than 5,000.

We should also point out that B4RN East Anglia may in the future be able to reach some isolated parts of South East Cambridgeshire. Plus they’ve recently launched a new division to help cater for similar rural communities in the county of Cheshire, which is of course called B4RN Cheshire (details).

Clive Blakesley, Chairman of Scole Community Centre, said:

“When I was approached by B4RN and asked if I was interested in hosting the cabinet at the Community Centre, I realised the fantastic opportunity we had been offered. It has the potential to benefit not only the Community Centre and the groups that use it but the whole village, including local businesses and home workers.

Now we have hyperfast broadband – unbelievably fast, something I’d never have thought was possible. Who would have thought a group of volunteers could build their own broadband network? I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in making this happen. Amazing well done everyone!”

David Evans, B4RN East Anglia Regional Director, added:

“A lot of hard work has gone into this day from bringing together our volunteer network, to raising funds and digging around fields to lay the duct, but it is not rocket science – 15 volunteers and a few B4RN Engineers completed the civil works in about 10 working days spread over a couple of months. In return for that hard work we are now part of one of the most modern and fastest rural broadband networks in the world.

The B4RN pure fibre network brings the latest fibre technology directly into people’s homes using light to transmit the signal and not outdated electrical impulses over unreliable old cable networks. The key for rural broadband is not just 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 current ancient infrastructure.

The answer is to bring a fast, reliable, fibre connection to each property (known as Fibre To The Home, or FTTH), this is what the B4RN community is doing.”

It’s worth pointing out that some nearby homes can already access speeds of around the “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) level via Openreach’s FTTC network, although B4RN’s FTTH is significantly faster and their strong community engagement has a tendency to result in a fierce level of take-up (average of around 60%).

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) network.

The only issue we have is with the press release’s headline claim of achieving the “WORLD’S FASTEST RURAL BROADBAND NOW LIVE IN EAST ANGLIA,” which is not strictly substantiated. Plenty of other countries have multi-Gigabit capable FTTH networks that have crept into a few rural areas and even Gigaclear in the UK has tested 5Gbps (B4RN would no doubt say they could do 10Gbps if it were in demand). But if we’re entering a realm where the battle is over how many Gigabits you can fit down a single fibre then.. happy days.

One other thing is that the PR attempts to define “hyperfast” as being a “technical term that means typical throughput is greater than 500Mbps“, which does not appear to be officially recognised. We’ve also tended to unofficially associate Hyperfast with 1Gbps+ connections but neither Ofcom nor the government have formally adopted this terminology (instead of Hyperfast it’s more common to just say “Gigabit“).

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Mark Jackson
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.
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13 Responses
  1. Avatar chris conder

    Congratulations to Norfolk, proving the south can do it too. And don’t worry about the term ‘hyperfast’ Mark, we know what it means. It doesn’t really matter whether ofcom do or not. We’re still the fastest in the world for that price when you check it out. We do have one customer on 10gig but they ain’t touching the sides.

    • Avatar CarlT

      I’ve checked it out and you aren’t the fastest in the world for the price, not even close, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth saluting.

  2. Avatar John

    Well done to all involved, so good to see an alternative smashing it.

    Would love more than 19Mbps upload but looks like we are on FTTC for the next decade at least.

    Virgin Media just installed FTTP but the packages are the same as their copper network so no point switching because the upload speed is the same as FTTC.

    Fingers crossed an altnet comes here.

    • Avatar GNewton

      The poor upload speeds of the Openreach-based FTTC and FTTP make their products pretty useless for many users. A simple 50/50 Mbps is more useful than 80/20 Mbps. I am not sure while these bigger ISPs don’t get it.

      Anyway well done B4RN East Anglia! It’s good to see alternative fibre networks being built now in difficult to reach areas.

    • Avatar John

      That’s not really a fair comment, upload speeds on Openreach-based FTTP and G.Fast go up to 50 Mbps. Knowhere near a Gigabit but much better than the 20Mbps on FTTC and Virgin Media.

      I agree about 50/50, that’s a lot more usefull to me than 80/20Mbps or 350/20Mbps (that enormous gap between upload and download speed on Virgin Media is ridiculous). I’d happily sacrafice some download speed for more upload.

      Apparently most people don’t take the highest speed tier, I wonder how much more utake there would be if the upload/download speeds were better ballanced.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      “The poor upload speeds of the Openreach-based FTTC and FTTP make their products pretty useless for many users.”

      Please provide the total amount of FTTC/FTTP users out there and the amount that consider the upload useless.

      Otherwise… your comment is just laughable.

  3. Avatar A_Builder

    @FibreFred

    I’m afraid the who needs it / who wants it [symmetric or at least decent upload speed] argument pumped out by the BT/copper acolytes is pretty laughable.

    Particularly when the Alt Nets are carving out chunks of business selling that and making enough money doing so to get investors piling into what is a very good long term infrastructure investment.

    Almost all businesses need symmetric and home use is now much closer to symmetric than it used to be and this is driven by cloudyness.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      I’m not saying believe me or others. I’m asking for a figure of these “many” and what that is in relation to the total number of users.

      “Almost all businesses need symmetric and home use is now much closer to symmetric than it used to be and this is driven by cloudyness.”

      Even you are at it now! 🙂

      Show me evidence that homes need (or much closer to needing) symmetric now.

      I’ll find a cosy chair.

    • Avatar Fastman

      hmmmm I’m afraid the who needs it / who wants it [symmetric or at least decent upload speed] argument pumped out by the BT/copper acolytes is pretty laughable. — Majority of lanet take lowers 50-/50 product — ferari salesman will always tell you need a Ferrari !!!!! –

      comment about the altnets is crazy – Investors invest as they more money back than they put in) That usually by floating / Selling / Buy out– you cant do that unless you get a customer base so Gigaclear needed a customer base– and has had to Create / fund one (win some contracts!!! what the world looks like one its has had once for a while and BDUK haver audited it about what its delivered and has it hit is contractual premises milestones and its under the same scrutiny around BDUK / Public Funding and then the investors might be more pressing on the return it might be a different story

    • Avatar FibreFred

      I guess it could take a while to get the stats from GNewton and A_Builder.

      In the meantime. I’ll quote from another article on this very site:

      “A similar situation already exists in today’s market. Just under half of the broadband lines in the UK are still based off slower copper ADSL based lines and that’s at least partly because they’re so cheap and not everybody sees a need for the faster services (FTTC, HFC DOCSIS, FTTP etc.), which tend to attractive a higher monthly premium.”

      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2018/03/ofcom-tweak-final-pricing-for-openreach-40mbps-fttc-broadband.html

      So just under half are still on ADSL which is the poorest of the poor when it comes to upload speeds.

      Yet people on here are telling us FTTC/FTTP upload is useless for many and home use is getting much more to symmetrical in needs.

      Hmmm

    • Avatar AndyH

      There is a very simple reason why most alt nets have symmetrical speeds – they use P2P networks. It’s a more cost effective way for them to deploy fibre on a smaller scale. GPON requires more expensive termination equipment and the configuration is far more complicated.

      A_Builder hasn’t been able to produce a single piece of evidence (other than everyone in his household are simultaneous downloading and uploading 8k streams) about the need for symmetrical speeds at residential level. At some point we will see Openreach increase the upstream speeds, but only when the demand is there and ISPs push for it.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Home use isn’t much closer to symmetrical than it used to be the trend has actually been increasing asymmetry.

      Cloud hasn’t come close to offsetting the decreased upstream usage as legitimate video services have reduced peer to peer volumes.

      A number of businesses that my employer serves are actually replacing symmetrical leased lines with asymmetrical broadband services.

      I appreciate your peer group are the exception given they all appear to have urgent requirements for symmetrical gigabit and are very vocal about it.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Andy: probably fairer to say that Openreach and others have avoided point to point solutions as they would potentially be required to unbundle the fibre had they delivered such a solution.

      Better margins in bitstream devices.

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