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Openreach Deploy Ground Penetrating Radar to Help UK FTTP Rollout

Monday, June 10th, 2019 (10:52 am) - Score 4,702

Openreach’s (BT) effort to cover the whole of Salisbury (Wiltshire) with their Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based ultrafast broadband ISP network (here) has been given a boost by a new Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) technology, which reduces costs and disruption by precisely mapping where to dig new cables.

The new technology has already gone through a number of successful pilots in Ashford (Kent) and Exeter, which took place alongside their recent Micro Ducting trial that we’ve covered before (here); the latter is also being used in Salisbury. The GPR solution is now being scaled-up so that Openreach’s engineers can use it as a cost and time saving technique across the UK, starting in Salisbury.

GPR essentially uses a transmitter to send pulses of high frequency radio waves through the ground and this then bounces back off objects hidden underground to a receiving antenna, which creates a digital “picture” or cross-section of what lies underneath from the signal variations.

The new approach helps to map the route with greater accuracy and it’s particularly good at identifying, and thus avoiding, existing infrastructure or solid objects that could otherwise create problems during the build. All of this is very useful when deployed alongside Micro Ducting, which digs a much narrower trench to a depth of 250mm and obviously needs to avoid existing infrastructure.

ground penetrating radar display openreach

Where possible Openreach prefers to run new fibre optic cables through or over their existing underground cable ducts and telegraph poles, but often they do need to dig trenches and this is where the new methods could be very useful. Initially both GPR and Micro Ducting are being deployed to connect 130 premises in Bemerton, in the Western part of the city, over the coming weeks.

Andy Whale, Openreach’s Chief Engineer, said:

“This is the first location in the UK where we’re aiming to upgrade an entire city network in a single year, so it’s a hugely ambitious project, but being able to use time and cost saving innovations like radar and micro ducting, combined with the unrivalled experience and skill of our engineering teams – means that we can have more confident that it’s achievable.

We’re constantly looking at ways of improving and evolving the build process, and these are just the latest additions to our innovations toolkit.

Micro ducting allows our teams to install new cables much more quickly – up to 300 metres each day. The technique is also less disruptive for local residents, reducing the amount building work – road works and all the associated disruption – by about 50 per cent, and it also uses fewer resources so it helps to reduce our costs and build times.

Using radar also makes the whole process safer. We’re digging into pavements that have other utilities like electricity, gas and water buried underneath. The last thing we want to do is cut off people’s supply by accidentally damaging a cable, so GPR means we can keep that risk to an absolute minimum.”

All of this should help Openreach to achieve their revised targets (here), which will now seem them aim to cover 4 million UK homes and businesses with “full fibreFTTP broadband by March 2021 (1.2 million have already been completed) and there’s an ambition for 15 million by around 2025. After that they also have an aspiration to reach “the majority of the UK, if the right conditions to invest are in place.”

As for Salisbury, Openreach has pledged to complete their FTTP deployment to all 20,000 premises across the cathedral city by April 2020 (i.e. within a year). It’s worth pointing out that GPR is not a new method in the civil engineering field (it’s often used for road and airport surveys), although we haven’t seen Openreach using it before.

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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. chris conder says:

    We have used ground radar for 8 years. It can even find drains in a farmer’s field. About time openreach caught up with the altnets…

    1. New_Londoner says:

      To be fair Chris, it is delivering the equivalent of 4-5 B4RNs a week in terms of FTTP homes passed.

    2. B4RN for all says:

      Hi Christine
      Any chance B4RN could quote me for FTTPoD here in the Highlands of Scotland? I did ask Openreach via my ISP but they quoted me £26,000 after I requested a survey. That is too costly for me, so hoping perhaps B4RN could come to my rescue.
      Thank you
      B4RN’s #1 fan

    3. GoodNews says:

      Your comments sound like they come from a spoilt child and only do damage to the B4RN reputation.

    1. CarlT says:

      They had plant already in place most of the time and had access to comprehensive maps showing locations of underground utilities so, prior to Fibre First, there was no real need to use GPR. More a lack of need than anything else.

      Even having it there it’ll seldom be needed – only in pavements and carriageways that are full to bursting with existing infrastructure – as it’s a relatively slow process.

      Also worth mentioning that you appear to be scanning on private land. Openreach don’t dig on private land very much: serving existing premises they nearly always have plant already in place and delivering to new builds they don’t do the digging to drop the fibre off, the developer does.

      Quite an apples and oranges scenario much as comparing most of what B4RN does with Openreach, Virgin Media, etc, is.

      Gigaclear don’t use the stuff extensively either for much the same reasons. Neither do Virgin Media. Higher scale operators working on the public carriageways and pavements versus a smaller scale operator largely doing soft digs along private land.

      Apples and oranges.

  2. Tim Procter says:

    B4RN ahead of the game again.

    1. FibreFred says:

      Weren’t b4rn years behind schedule?

  3. 5G Infinity says:

    We are also looking at LIDAR plus vegetation management software to predict where tree roots are, so fibre can be laid safely without disturbing trees – impacting root structures can kill the tree as well as incurring fines.

    1. Somerset says:

      There was an article about Gigiaclear using LIDAR in the CDS area, and still they got themselves in a mess.

  4. Meadmodj says:

    Why it it that every time there is an article on ISPreview announcing Openreach have made a step (even small ones) to improve their effectiveness that the response it to take a swipe at OR often with no basis.

    Do you not think an organisation like BT that spends hundreds of millions of pounds per year on underground works would not be involved in all technologies. In fact BT has been involved (and I think shared awards for joint research with universities etc) regarding GPR. BT outsources most of its civils based on templated planning so much of the surveying responsibility is passed to its Supplier. I would be very surprised if GPR has not been used by BT multiple times via their suppliers or speciality providers particularly on existing structures such as tunnels and complex manhole/chambers. OR has predominately an existing infrastructure so there focus often is on new build and maintenance of existing.

    Early GPR could tell you there was an underground presence but not what it was. Since then the effectiveness of GRP has developed and coupled with 3D mapping software can now provide sophisticated views. However it can be over complex for many situations and therefore the other technologies such radio frequency location surveys, acoustic mapping surveys and inertial gyroscopic mapping are also used.

    This announcement means is that the effectiveness and cost of GPR technology has developed such that it can be now be provided as a basic facility within OR teams rather than a costly outsourced service. If this leads to lower cost, damage or delay then that has to be good for all and applauded.

    1. useless says:

      “Why it it that every time there is an article on ISPreview announcing Openreach have made a step (even small ones) to improve their effectiveness that the response it to take a swipe at OR often with no basis.”

      Probably because most of the time its self deluded, self submitted dross, by its workers/supporters that linger on here. Rather than anything which is in any way substantially news worthy.

    2. David says:

      I was using GSSI SIR 10 H for BT back in 1993 on the old Kent road we developed a 1 Ghz antenna that was water proof on 300 metre cable that was78mm wide that passed through there duct headings to find voids to be grouted which we also did remotely. Since then the technology has moved on greatly and we now have a UAV system that can be remotely operated from anywhere around the world. Feel free to check out our Facebook page aerodata GPR surveys

  5. chris conder says:

    Hi B4RN for all, £26k isn’t too bad for openreach if you are remote, it gets to three figures in our area, that is why we did our own.
    Contact Balquhidder broadband, they have managed to build their own network in Scotland and are closer to you? https://balquhidder.net/this-site/

  6. Brin says:

    my divining rods work well (somehow?) for laying fibre ducts on our 1 gig rollout.
    They detect more infrastructure than the scanners, I recently realised that it works with empty 7mm domestic fibre ducts. Handy when customer has forgotten exactly where they had buried the ducts! Wish I knew how it works lol

  7. FibreBubble says:

    Nice to hear about B4RN, again.

    The UK’s number one provider of “Fibre to Forum” :S

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