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Openreach Airborne Drone Reconnects Rural Hamlet After Landslide UPDATE

Friday, November 30th, 2018 (5:13 pm) - Score 5,114

A serious landslide, which cut-off the rural hamlet of Kinloch Hourn in the West Highlands (Scotland) from broadband and phone services, has been reconnected after Openreach (BT) used one of their airborne drones to fly a new cable over the safety exclusion zone, around the landslide, and to the base of the Quoich Dam.

Apparently the landslide itself was triggered after a cave, which sat roughly 2,500ft up the side of a mountain, collapsed following a couple of local tremors. The landslide also appears to have dislodged two 1000 tonne+ boulders, which are bigger than a large detached bungalow (sadly the pictures provided were too grainy to include). Some 9,000 tons of soil and rock also crashed onto the road below, completely destroying it.

Curiously the event occurred on 12th November, although Openreach notes that a “single phone fault was only reported this week.” We suspect this might be because most mobile operators have either zero or very weak signal coverage in the area, so there may have been no easy way to report it. Nevertheless Openreach dispatched a team and soon ran into problems with the exclusion zone, which is a no-go area because of the threat to life.

Luckily the team were able to harness drones (we’ve seen these used before – here and here – in earlier pilots (no pun intended)) to fly a new cable over the exclusion zone, which was then connected to the existing network. Unfortunately the team still had to walk 3 miles in torrential rain and hail to the nearest radio sub-station to make sure all 6 lines had a dial tone.

Fraser MacDougall, Openreach’s Ops Manager (Highlands and Islands), said:

“As there is no mobile reception at Kinloch Hourn, the radio link is the main means of communication and summoning help in emergencies. It was important to get it restored so that residents have access to services while clean up and stabilisation works are completed. It initially looked impossible due to the exclusion zone and road closure, but then we hit on the idea of using the drone.”

The Highland Council is said to have estimated that it will take “several weeks to stabilise the hillside” against further landslips and begin clearance work on the road, which connects Loch Garry to Kinloch Hourn. At present Openreach has five approved drone teams in the UK, which might not sound like much but they are quite niche.

The operator typically makes use of the DJI Mavic Pro (costs around £800-£1000) drone. The flyer weighs 750g and has a flight time of 27 minutes per battery, with a max payload of 1.5lbs, plus collision avoidance sensors to help dodge obstacles.. and sometimes engineers. So far none of them have gone off on a mission to kill John Conner 🙂 .

UPDATE 2nd Dec 2018

Thanks to one of our readers (see comments) for finding this video of the landslide.

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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.
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16 Responses
  1. Simon says:

    A payload of only 1.5lbs is not much in terms of cabling, so I’m going to assume that they don’t actually fly the communications cable but rather fishing wire which is attached to the cable and then later used to pull the cable across, obviously this method sounds less cool, otherwise still cool through.

    1. Joe says:

      Yup. Frankly if there is an exclusion zone then we’re talking quite a length of cable to pull even conventionally.

  2. Optical says:

    Old fashion fishing line,probably use something like 1.9 mm Para cord,(there are smaller sizes),it only weighs 1.42 gram per meter, but has a breaking strain around 100lbs plus.

  3. Dave says:

    Good thing Openreach have a PfCO or I would have been reporting them to the CAA…

    1. Joe says:

      Tbh we rather have this back to front. The commercial operators need permissions and the amateurs who are the real menace don’t.

    2. JWorth says:

      Keep up the good work dave.

  4. j0hn says:

    pics are too grainy?
    How about some drone footage

    1. A_Builder says:

      Looks like an authentic and quite large landslide to me.

      I am guessing the exclusion zone is because of the flowing rock/mud and the downed power pylon.

      Looks to me like the drone was actually the only viable option.

      I know that part of the world from my teenage years and it is hard work doing anything on those hills.

      Not sure if I buy into the negativity, in this case. What are OR going to do: leave the community cut off from comms? I don’t think so. Can you imagine the clamour on here if they failed to come up with some kind of a solution?

      So for once full marks to OR for getting something done.

  5. Bob says:

    That’s great good old Openreach big bunch of kids playing with drones where there’s people like us down the South that still can’t get broadband in places just brilliant bloody BT and Openreach what a joke

    1. Burp says:

      It wouldn’t be a disaster if you were cut off from the outside world completely.

    2. SimonR says:

      How did you post this?

    3. Fastman says:

      bob really !!!!! so where are you bob and what have you done about about getting better broadband . some comments on here you couldn’t make up !!!!

    4. TheFacts says:

      @Bob – which other suppliers have you contacted?

  6. FibreFred says:

    Just here for the negative comments.

    Wasn’t disappointed.

    1. Oggy says:

      BT/Openreach could find an instant cure for cancer and some folk on here would still be complaining.

      GNewton would post a link to a Trustpilot survey complaining the cure took 10 minutes to have an impact and Chris Conder would complain that they hadn’t developed a cure before the person was diagnosed and someone from the south of England would complain that someone in Scotland got the cure staff of them.

  7. joseph says:

    Quite a good idea to use a drone in that instance, though i do not understand how they got the cable from bottom to top. The weight of the cable would be too heavy for the drone, and if they run something like fishing line first and then attached the cable to it and and pulled it up from the top then could they not have gone to the top and just threw the fishing line down in the first place?

    Either way i spose it was another good test situation for their new gizmo.

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