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B4RN Set to Hit 5000 Rural UK FTTH Broadband Connections Target

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018 (8:45 am) - Score 2,185
b4rn fibre optic cable rolls

Plucky rural ISP B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North), which has spent the past 6 years deploying a 1Gbps capable community built and funded “full fibre” (FTTH) broadband network to remote homes in several counties across England, looks set to hit their 5,000 connections target by around the end of this month.

The Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) network remains a wonderful success story, not least due to the way in which they’ve encouraged volunteers in each area to help build the network (usually in exchange for shares instead of cash). The model also relies on local landowners (e.g. farmers) being generous and agreeing to waive their right to payment under a wayleave (access) agreement, which enables the fibre to be affordably dug through their land.

B4RN is also registered as a community benefit society, which among other things means that it can never be bought by a commercial operator and their profits will only ever be distributed back into the community. Suffice to say that the bigger they get, the further and faster they can go and this is certainly holding true today.

The unique operator first broke ground in March 2012 and initially only focused on building out their core network in rural Lancashire’s Lower Lune Valley area, but they’ve since expanded or are in the process of expanding into rural parts of Cheshire, Cumbria, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Yorkshire.

Just to give a rough idea of progress, B4RN has gone from having around 1,000 live connections (i.e. properties actually connected to their network and using the service) in 2015 to 4,836 today and their current run rate is about 150 per month. In other words, they’re roughly on course to achieve the current target of 5,000 connections during summer 2018 (this was set last year).

Barry Ford, B4RN’s CEO, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“The score on the door as of this evening is 4836 connected properties leaving us to find 164 connections to reach 5000. Our run rate is about 150 per month which suggests that we will hit the 5000 figure about the end of this month or early next month.

We have kicked off a number of new builds over the last few weeks so we should start seeing an uplift in the connection rate in a month or so, hoping to hit 300/month sometime next year.”

Naturally B4RN’s approach also encourages a strong degree of community engagement (i.e. getting locals to help build their own fibre), which tends to create impressively high levels of take-up in a very short space of time (65% was the last average we saw). This has also helped them to overcome several overbuild challenges from Openreach (BT) and intransigence from the odd council.

One other significant advantage of B4RN’s model is that customers benefit from one of both the cheapest and fastest broadband connections in the UK. Even after six years subscribers still pay just £30 inc. VAT per month for a 1000Mbps (symmetrical) unlimited service (annual price hikes? Nope, they’ve never heard of such a thing) and there’s also a one-off connection fee of £150. Cheap when you consider that it’s FTTH.

Admittedly B4RN’s model only works best in rural “soft dig” areas, where you don’t have to worry about the tighter restrictions and higher costs that can occur in more urban locations due to the need to dig up streets etc. However, they have had to do a bit of that too in some of the more “urban” villages, such as Halton (Halton-with-Aughton) in Lancashire.

Not that rural deployments are somehow easy-peasy. Try suggesting that to those volunteers who’ve had to cut through boggy fields or deal with the joys of heavy snowfall earlier this year. It’s not always fun, but there is usually cake! Nevertheless B4RN continues to meet and overcome all the challenges that it’s faced. Today the operator is also home to 26 staff (including Directors) and they’re still looking to hire more.

Check out B4RN’s Coverage Page to see where they’re going next.

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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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14 Responses
  1. Walter G M Willcox

    I visit the splendid scenery of Lancashire, South Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales to lend an occasional hand. I have seen peat bogs and thunderous torrents of bright orange water spewing off the fells as well as limestone pavements around Silverdale and boulders up to the size of a wheelbarrow in boulder-clay regions. I can also vouch for the intransigence of the Incumbent when a community housing project installed their ducts only to be given 14 days to remove B4RN’s blown fibre tube. It was done in half that time and B4RN gained another few clients too !

    There are some fiercely proud local volunteers who, because fo their commitment and B4RN investment, have actually reached over 95% penetration with B4RN’s true symmetric 1 Gbps services. Most B4RN users opt to dispose of their twisted pair lines too and achieve cheaper VOIP services but still retain their existing phone number. It’s also possible to connect panic alarm systems too.

  2. Graham Long

    Well done B4RN. Long may your success continue.

  3. RIchard

    Not only an inspiration to the rest of us, but generous with their help and support too. Congratulations from the northern small fry in Balquhidder!

  4. David Stamp

    Congratulations to everyone involved in the Broadband for the Rural North initiative. The ones that started it in 2011, every parish and community that has become involved to install their own Gigabit FTTP broadband since then, current B4RN Ltd staff and volunteers, plus B4RN supporters around the UK and worldwide. As a well known #B4RN volunteer said (and now many have actually done) #JFDI #SiliconLuneValley #SiliconFields. Thank you for such a good overview article, Mark Jackson!

  5. A_Builder

    I admire the enthusiasm and wish I could get that connection at home for that price.

    Wonderful for the local economy too.

    Keep up the good work and helping to educate others on what you have achieved.

  6. John Hockless

    This is great first I’ve hears of it, is there any chances of coming to the Hull area in the near future as you know we are tied down to a couple of firms all promising fast fibre ex, it doesn’t exist here we are still copper wires there may be fibre to certain sub stations but after that copper so slow, can you advise please.

    • CarlT

      John, the Hull area is nearly all FTTP. It’s unique in the UK in being nearly all FTTP.

      If you are in an urban area sadly B4RN or similar won’t work. They rely on free wayleaves to use private land and the vast majority of the digging to be over soft ground. Urban and suburban areas are largely hard dig through publicly maintained land.

      It’s great but it’s not one size fits all and in at least 80% of the UK, by population, it’s not feasible.

  7. Brin

    Congratulations to all at B4RN. You were our model and inspiration on our FTTP project.
    Over 90% of ground work done, half the 200 properties connected. Over 90% take up
    Fittng the router and doing a speed test feels like father XMAS
    All this would not have happened if it was not for B4RN leading the way.
    Thanks to all involved in B4RN.
    http://www.myfi.wales

  8. Neb

    Sterling efforts, bearing fruit – keep going.

  9. Together we stand

    Another example of the rich exploiting the workers. This so called company uses free labour to install their product. Not even minimum wage. This is putting my comrades out of work. This is worse than zero hours contract. The owners of this company should be removed and the workers and workers alone should reap the rewards of their toil.

    A fair days work for a fair days wage and nothing for the fat cats.

    • chris conder

      Together they stand…The workers reap the rewards, they have the best connection in the world, and they have helped all their community, young, old, rich and poor. They also own the company, there are no fat cats. If you research your facts a bit better you would realise the whole community are standing together in a way unmatched anywhere else. cheers comrade.

    • Brin

      Well said Chris lol
      ps we are blowing our last(for this year) 72 fibre this afternoon

    • CarlT

      B4RN is a non-profit organisation.

      Hmm. Inebriated, troll or a Momentum member formerly of one of the extreme left proscribed groups?

      Answers on a postcard.

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