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Gigaclear Become First UK ISP to Drill FTTP Under River Severn

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 (12:01 pm) - Score 2,781

Rural full fibre provider Gigaclear has, as part of the state aid supported Fastershire project in Gloucestershire, become the first ISP to drill their 1Gbps Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network so that its optical fibre cable can run under the River Severn to reach 861 homes in two villages (Longney and Framilode).

The work itself forms part of stage 3 of the Fastershire broadband project – a joint initiative between local authorities in both Gloucestershire and Herefordshire (England) – with Gigaclear, which will give more than 70,000 premises in both counties access to a new ultrafast broadband network.

Crossing rivers can be very difficult, particularly if the usual approaches of running cables alongside a bridge or throwing it between two overhead points (e.g. poles or buildings) aren’t viable. In this case the operator worked with civil engineering firm Complete Utilities to drill some 5 metres below the River Severn (necessary to avoid disturbing the riverbed).

After that a horizontal directional drill, specifically a Vermeer drill with 133kn pullback force (this had to be imported especially for the project), was then used to complete the deployment to the other side. Overall some 6.5km of cable was laid from Elmore Back and through to Minsterworth.


All of this work has taken months of planning and is likely to have been quite costly, which is one of the reasons why the villages – surrounded as they are by the River Severn on the west side and a Canal on the east side – have tended to be avoided by other ISPs.

Nevertheless they can now access Gigabit speeds via the new full fibre network, which is a huge improvement from the previous speeds of between 1-3Mbps via Openreach’s (BT) old copper lines.

NOTE: The River Severn has the second highest tidal range in the world, and a conventional dig through a river is unviable. Drilling under the canal was too difficult due to the depth of the canal’s bank stabilisation. Overhead cables could not be installed because large ships use the canal.

Peter Pentecost, Regional General Manager at Gigaclear, said:

“We are proud to be working alongside the Fastershire Broadband Project in bringing best in class broadband speeds to Longney and Framilode through our full fibre ultrafast network. The scale of this civil engineering task goes to show how passionately we believe in the importance of digital inclusion for all, no matter how rural their chosen home or business is.

We hear time and time again how an excellent internet connection can really transform lives, be it accessing important social and retail services remotely or simply keeping in touch with family members living far away.”

Councillor Patrick Molyneux said:

“This is a tremendous engineering operation and we’re delighted to see it achieved. The scale of this project illustrates how difficult it is to reach rural areas of our county and how committed Gloucestershire County Council through Fastershire is to providing access faster broadband.

Fastershire’s work with Gigaclear is transforming broadband access across the county and is making it one of the fastest areas in the country. Currently 106,000 properties can already access a superfast connection as a result of the Fastershire project. By the end of the rollout this will have risen to 142,000 homes and businesses with well over half of that number capable of gigabit speeds, helping to ensure that our rural communities can continue to thrive.”

Apparently the first homes and businesses in the villages of Longney and Framilode are due to be connected in the next few weeks, once the FTTP infrastructure is fully in place. With the remainder to be connected once outstanding access agreements (wayleaves) with local landowners are secured (it’s unclear why these weren’t sorted beforehand).

Admittedly we should point out that Gigaclear’s local deployment plan has suffered some delays – similar to what they’ve experienced in other parts of England – and as a result their completion for the currently planned work was recently pushed back to the end of 2021 (here); including a tiny number that may overrun into January 2022.

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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.
Leave a Comment
11 Responses
  1. Avatar SuperFast says:

    Roll on the Minsterworth activation! Great use of alternative technology on getting FTTH to Elmore and Longley as it is pretty much an island surrounded by a River and a Canal.

  2. Avatar AnotherTim says:

    Well done Gigaclear! It is nice to see progress reported.

  3. Avatar Samuel says:

    and yet at my house, which has perfectly fine ducts, I am still unable to get fibre installed.

    1. Avatar SuperFast says:

      Which area are you in?

  4. Avatar Jonathan says:

    Directional drilling is not as expensive as you might imagine. The cost has come right down in recent years as the technology has improved. We have the fracking industry to thank for that mostly as it what makes it viable.

    1. Avatar AnotherTim says:

      Well lets hope Gigaclear don’t hit gas, otherwise the rest of us may never get decent broadband!

  5. Avatar chris conder says:

    Well done Gigaclear! We went under the river Lune with a directional drill, because the railway wouldn’t let us use the bridge. The drill cost a fortune. The bridge would have been a few pounds and 20 minutes work (only a branch line). Despite two years of campaigning and our lovely MP speaking up for us in parliament we couldn’t use the bridge.
    If only everyone would work together we could fibre up this country in no time. Many great altnets are stepping up to go the extra mile, and wherever they work openreach overbuilds. Competition is definitely making them up their game. Delays in altnet rollouts are usually caused by obstructions, and governments can save a fortune if they removed the stumbling blocks.

    1. Avatar Jonathan says:

      I would imagine that using the railway bridge then creates a permanent wayleave issue for Network Rail. That is any work on the bridge in future has to consider your fibre optic cable which raises their costs. Put another way if Network Rail came along in the future and said sorry we need £XXXX from you to cover the additional costs of doing maintenance on the bridge because we have to work around your fibre optic cable would you have been happy to pay it? If I where Network Rail I would be against letting anyone put additional infrastructure on my bridges; make your own crossing….

    2. Avatar Gadget says:

      let’s also not forget the stringent safety training and requirements for working trackside.

    3. Avatar The Facts says:

      Wasn’t this about going under a bridge with the railway above?

    4. Avatar Fastman says:

      so which branch line was this – wndermere , Morecombe or the settle and Carlisle railway –

      really The bridge would have been a few pounds and 20 minutes work (only a branch line)

      unbelievable – not sure what is more unbelievable that you wrote this or you actually think this is true

      this is the same network rail you have months to get access to track or onto track or many even get access – as you found out

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