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Openreach Drone Brings FTTP Broadband Over Rural Scottish River

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018 (12:04 pm) - Score 3,778
drone openreach fttp flight over river

A team of Openreach (BT) engineers has once again shown how Aerial Drones can be used to help bring fibre optic (FTTP) broadband ISP cables to remote UK communities. In this case they were able to run the fibre over a 50 metre wide stretch of river in a remote rural part of Scotland.

The operator first began testing the use of drones for challenging fibre deployments at the end of last year (here), when they were used to connect the small rural village of Pontfadog in the rugged Ceiriog Valley (Wrexham, North Wales). Since then they’ve trained up 5 drone pilots (certified by the Civil Aviation Authority) and the latest homes to benefit from this are those in the Highlands (Scotland) community of Glenmazeran.

Openreach had already buried their armoured 1Gbps Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) cable long 10km of single-track road through the glen to the right of the River Findhorn, where most of the 37 scattered homes included in the first phase of the project are located. But sadly one remote property on the other side of the fast-flowing river was excluded.. until a drone was used.

Kevin Drain, Openreach’s Chief Engineer (North Scotland), said:

“Although Glenmazeran is only 20 miles from Inverness, the properties are very remote and scattered. We’ve had to contend with steep drops and bankings as we buried cable along the single-track road. But the biggest challenge was reaching one remote home, 400 metres away from the main route, where the fibre cable needed to span a 50-metre wide stretch of river.

In the past we’ve tried all sorts of ways to do this – like attaching cables to fishing lines, golf balls and even hammers, which frankly proved hit and miss.

This is the first time we’ve used a drone to drop fibre into place here in Scotland and as a delivery method it’s unbeatable. Drones will now become part of our toolkit to reach places where the terrain means traditional engineering is difficult or impossible.

We did need to practice our technique. It’s a bit different from connecting up a street in Inverness, that’s for sure!”

We should point out that the Glenmazeran project is a Community Fibre Partnership (CFP), which is being co-funded by residents (the community are using money from local windfarm operator Eneco) and Openreach. Residents are also helping to dig in the final lengths of cable which travel from the new fibre spine to their properties (we’re starting to see a lot more of this since the earlier trials).

The above can also be mixed with support from the Government’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. Businesses can claim up to £3,000 and eligible residents can also benefit from a voucher worth £500 as part of a wider project.

The new network is now live and around two-thirds of the 37 homes can already order a service, while the rest are expected to follow later this month. We believe from the picture that they’re using the DJI Mavic Pro (costs around £800-£1000). 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 the heads of local engineers.

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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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18 Responses
  1. Matthew

    Nice to see this is increasing definitely going be important I imagine for R100 if it ever gets off the ground.

  2. Steve

    Soooo Matthew… R50 it is then…

    • Joe

      I suspect it will get saved by the ongoing commercial rollout of Fttp/Gfast and USO. Doubtless the SNP will claim it as another triumph for Scotland!

  3. CarlT

    Hmm. Building FTTP to a tough, remote area through a combination of community funding and community work. Where have I seen this before? Seems familiar.

  4. Butch Dingle

    I wonder if Christine Conder will come along shortly and say “well done Openreach”. Oh look just spotted a flying piggy in my window 🙂

  5. Paul Mitchell

    Nothing new. Years ago I remember getting a cable accroos a river using fishing line and a bow and arrow. Pulling the line and then rope then the Arial cable. Lot cheaper than a drone I’d suggest.

    • A_Builder

      @Paul Mitchell

      Careful admitting that you did something useful in public. And that you thought outside the box. Worse still solved the problem.

      To be honest the hype on the drone thing seems a bit crazy as in the navy and merchant navy messenger lines have been shot across for decades for RaS bosuns chair etc.

    • Joe

      Yes shhh before someone in health and safety panics that you hadn’t run a dynamic risk assessment and filled in more forms than war and peace!

    • joseph

      “Lot cheaper than a drone I’d suggest.”

      You have missed the point. Why spend only a hundred quid on some odds and ends to do it when you can make a whole meal and PR release out of your accomplishment by spending a thousand quid.

  6. David

    my street of 100+ houses was enabled in 2013 and all that cost for about 6 of us that took up the offer. It is pointless to dig up a whole road unless you have the commitment that the people that live there want it. In my area people seem happy to pay for standard broadband and even though fttp is available, another thing bt have got wrong is pushing line rental and voice over fibre onto fttp customers

    • FibreFred

      You should’t have to take voice agreed. But you need to pay line rental if you are served by a line.

    • Bob H

      Yup, many tech people don’t realise that most customers don’t want superfast broadband and probably wouldn’t know what to do with it if they did.

      I have 150Mbit but even I struggle to know what I would do with gigabit most of the time, which is why I don’t pay VM extra for their 300Mbit service. There aren’t many applications that demand more than 100Mbit and I don’t download very large files daily.

      If you do, that’s great, but *most* people don’t, my mother certainly doesn’t!

  7. Joe

    ” like attaching cables to fishing lines, **golf balls** and even hammers, which frankly proved **hit and miss**.”

    There really needed to be a wink in that at least!

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