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Openreach Speeds Up FTTP Broadband Rollout with New Machine UPDATE2

Friday, May 7th, 2021 (1:48 pm) - Score 22,128

Openreach has started to deploy a new 25 tonne “Clean Fast” machine in the United Kingdom, which is a significantly faster, cleaner and quieter way of digging their new optical fibre cables into the ground. The kit is currently being tested around the rural Hope Valley (near Derwent Dam) in Derbyshire.

At present Openreach’s new gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network is available to over 4.5 million premises (homes and businesses) across the United Kingdom, although they plan to extend this out to reach as many as 20 million premises by around 2025-30 (at a cost of c.£12bn). Some 3.2 million of those properties will also be in rural or semi-rural areas (here).

Pictured: High Peak MP, Robert Largan, Openreach Chief Engineer, Andy Whale, and Regional Director, Kasam Hussain.

Suffice to say, anything that can help the operator to keep their build costs down is a good thing, particularly as they enter rural communities where the cost of deployment is often disproportionately higher than in urban locations. This is where the new Clean Fast machine comes into play, which sounds pretty close to being an all-in-one style civil engineering solution.

According to Openreach, the Clean Fast machine can “simultaneously” channel out a 60cm deep trench, suck all the debris out of it, install the new underground network (e.g. cable duct) and then quickly seal it up again. “It means significantly less disruption to local life, with roads closed for shorter periods of time and all of the mess normally associated with laying cables underground automatically collected, reducing dust and debris,” said a spokesperson.

Andy Whale, Chief Engineer at Openreach, said:

“Places like The Hope Valley can prove to be challenging from an engineering point of view, but we also know these rural communities need fast and reliable broadband more than most. We’ve worked incredibly hard to come up with a plan to build full fibre here, and our engineers are doing a great job of putting the network in place.

Being able to use the new Clean Fast machine is a game changer for us. It’s the first time we’ve used it here in the Midlands and it really does allow us to work faster and with less disruption. We can move along a stretch of road cutting a deep narrow trench, clearing out any debris and laying ducting underground in one swift motion.

The machine is also quieter than you’d expect, can work quickly – usually around 1000 metres in a day, compared to 20m historically – and it gathers up any debris and dust as it goes.”

Rather annoyingly Openreach has not included a picture of the machine itself, although we intend to update this article once one arrives (hopefully later today). However, from the description we think it’s something similar to Tesmec’s large Cleanfast machine (here) or the smaller City Cleanfast (here).

The plan is to continue using the new kit in Derbyshire, but it will also be increasingly deployed across the rest of the United Kingdom.

UPDATE 11th May 2021 @ 8:42am

We still haven’t heard back from Openreach, but given the narrow road in the picture we suspect they were probably using the smaller and much more recently developed Marais / Tesmec City Cleanfast machine.

UPDATE 11th May 2021 @ 6pm

We’ve had a few more details from Openreach, which confirm that it’s one of the biggest 8 wheeler Cleanfast machines that is being used (see picture below), which is said to be about 20% cheaper than traditional duct laying methods.


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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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44 Responses
  1. Steve says:

    When Virgin were working in my local area one of the team told me they usually did 450m per day per gang but often infilling was not done the same day. So all being well this machine should help in the efforts for a quicker delivery of Fttp. Not so good news for jobs though.

    1. A_Builder says:

      Currently there is a shortage of people willing to do street works.

      So mechanisation is essential for all utility builds.

      Anything that keeps costs down is sensible as it gets more network built.

      One of the big problems with UK productivity is that we used to throw cheap Eastern European labour at the problem rather than invest in mechanisation. Also there are a lot of good plant designs coming to the market including fully electric units that will be very useful for quieter street works.

  2. Mark says:

    That’s a big machine, could seeing causing a lot of disruption here with narrow one way streets, cars parked everywhere, services all buried in the pavements and road, certainly would work in areas more rural where there’s little in the roads and verges.

    1. CarlT says:

      It’s not for residential streets.

  3. The Numbertaker says:

    I do want FTTP, and I am glad they’re doing it .. but the pavements look bloody awful after they’ve done all this stuff. The pavements near where we live are a total patchwork thanks to Virgin Media. It’s unsightly. Still I think i’d rather have patchwork pavements than eyesore telegraph poles everywhere

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      Once this machines ploughed through, give the neighbourhood kids some chalk, they can play noughts and crosses!

    2. Karl Cronin says:

      Your lucky, cannot get anything broadband connection with old copper line’s because of the FTTP FIBER OPTIC CABLES FITTED BACK IN JULY 2018.
      Was cancelled.
      Now in a no win. Won’t fix old copper line’s but won’t finish jobs off.

    3. craig says:

      My area was looking good, after Virgin and Openreach but then City Fibre turned up and basically butchered the pavements and they leave them a complete mess

  4. Steve B says:

    When our houses were built in the 1980’s they installed underground conduit yo take telephone cables AND old style analogue cable TV from the exchange to every home. The cable TV is long defunct, but if they had the sense to pull fibre through on the old TV cable, they’d make things a lot easier for themselves. Bt/Openreach don’t know or appreciate what they already have….

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      Unbundle the conduit! I’ve said it for years. Unbundle Virgin too, whilst they’re at it….I live in hope!

    2. NE555 says:

      > Unbundle the conduit!

      That’s already been done for Openreach assets: it’s called PIA and is widely used by altnets. Even Virgin are using it: https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2021/03/virgin-media-uk-hails-pia-and-rapid-fttp-rollout-in-swadlincote.html

      There are separate terms for spine network and for lead-in ducts to properties.

      Some pricing is mentioned in passing here: https://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/8958-price-rises-on-openreach-full-fibre-and-other-services

  5. Graham Moore says:

    When Btand other service providers dig up your street they only have to do a temporary reinstatement, because they pay the local authority to resurface. If local authority drags their heels, don’t blame the contractors!

    1. CarlT says:

      Err no. They can do a temporary and must do a permanent reinstatement within a set period.

      They may also do a permanent reinstatement first time.

      They don’t pay the local authority to do it. Only time that would happen would be if the authority were resurfacing anyway and they did their work beforehand. They’d potentially do a temporary reinstatement then later on update the record to reflect that the local authority had done the permanent.

      The local authority doing reinstatement would be an entirely new work.

  6. Buggerlugz says:

    Whilst it may be fast, it don’t look very clean to me. It looks like a great big machines torn a strip of pavement up and then tarmac’d over it and where exactly are they going to be able to use it, certainly not planning on using it for FTTP to houses built in the last decade with services littered across pavements left right and centre.

    Must be another BT publicity stunt then…

    1. CarlT says:

      This machine won’t be used within estates. It’ll be used to get fibre to more remote areas much as the picture suggests.

    2. Fedup says:

      Your full of advice and knowledge and the joys of spring
      Have you ever hear of progress.
      Seeing that most of the modern world needs faster internet speeds then what wrong with having new equipment that saves time and money. And you think it’s a publicly stunt .

  7. Terry says:

    Behind times the machine was used in the shetlands about 6 year’s ago

    1. CarlT says:

      Who was using it in the Shetlands 6 years ago?

      I’m aware of SHEFA, was it that route?

    2. Sloth says:

      Hi Terry,

      KCom used this machine ~10 years ago for point-to-point in the carriageway, and used more innovative reinstatement as I understand it.
      Doocey NE sis the Shetland job with a Ditch Witch traction unit fitted with a microtrenching cutting wheel and reinstated with resin (much more innovative in my opinion, as the resin goes off far quicker, albeit more costly). Much better reinstatemnet job that in this one by the looks of it…

  8. Adam says:

    The quality of reinstatement looks terrible in that picture, I hope Derbyshire council will be serving notice on Openreach over that. I see a large bill down the line for the council otherwise.

  9. Dylan says:

    Nice! Anything to improve the rollout for a country that’s so far behind, can only be a good thing.

    1. CarlT says:

      Indeed, Mr Newton.

  10. Bobby says:

    If you think that looks bad. Try seeing my previously slabbed pavement that now has been partly patched with tarmac and the remaining slabs have all been damaged by the vibrating plate used to level the tarmac. What is worse is the tarmac is all different widths and doesn’t run parallel to the curb. Total mess.

  11. Steve says:

    Something like this I would think https://www.tesmec.com/clean-fast-solutions-fttx

  12. Aled says:

    Curious. So I guess you would need a CAT scanner and survey team out in advance, to evaluate underground ducts, electric, gas and sewers. But that once that was done you could possibly bring this unit into the game to get FTTP out to those hard to reach 5-10km rural areas? Sounds ideal for rural Wales, but how well does it handle hills?

    1. A_Builder says:

      Normally you would have a GPR running in front of something like this and marking areas that are hard (concrete) or have services buried in them.

    2. TB says:

      I believe the vehicle has a GPR scanner mounted on the front, the trench depth is adjusted on the go, it only cuts the trench, duct is usually then laid by hand and a secondary team follows to concrete/tar the hole

    3. A_Builder says:

      There certainly are machines that will do the concreting – that then needs to cure – there are for sure machines that can then repair the tarmac.

  13. JohnG says:

    I understand ISPs have right to install duct wherever they like. We already have both Vigin and Team fibre systems in our area. There would be serious unrest if yet another firm proposed to dig up roads and pavements again.

  14. Aidan R says:

    As a reinstatements manager I can only see the benefits of this on rural roads and even then the standard of reinstatement is poor to average with possible return visits for remedial work throughout the warranty period these machines would be constantly stopping on modern urban footways due to the amount of other services in the ground …horses for courses comes to mind

    1. A_Builder says:

      But at least the making good and cleaning up is to a consistent standard.

      The bane of these things being done manually is variable skills and interest levels: to put it politely.

      With a machine once it is set right and the right making good materials are in the hopper things should be consistent.

    2. Mark says:

      Gigaclear rollout in area around here has been done in the verges very small percentage in the rural road tarmac, been very quick progress though, the slowest bit has been crossing the roads to connect properties.

  15. Brian Gibson says:

    I live in a housing association tower block
    and I can guarantee that this block among with countless other housing association blocks will never be upgraded to provide
    FTTP broadband unless the government minister responsible for the FTTP roll out includes every household including housing associations.
    Until then I am stuck with 50+years old telecoms copper cabling that is not fit for purpose and broadband speeds that never get above 3.4mb 24/7

    1. Aled says:

      You’d probably be surprised at recent developments. Quite a few London councils have signed up to FTTP in all social housing projects.

    2. A_Builder says:

      And some of the London MDU ISP’s will need to find more MDU’s as they are starting to run out of fresh ones in London

    3. JonCa says:

      To say “copper is not fit for purpose” is not really fair is it? Copper was deployed to carry speech band telephony.
      It’s ability to carry higher frequencies for broadband has not truly recognised that distance has a very significant impact on band service delivery.
      I would suggest it is frequently mis-sold. My service is supposedly fibre to the cabinet, unfortunately the cabinet is in the exchange. 1.8 miles loss then means my 60 ish Meg arrives at an average 3.4 meg
      But all providers say they can provide speeds over 30 meg
      Miss-Selling is what comes to mind, creating unfounded expectations.

    4. GNewton says:

      “Miss-Selling is what comes to mind, creating unfounded expectations.”

      Many people are brainwashed into believing that copper magically became fibre, thanks to ASA not doing its job!

  16. H says:

    If their customer service doesnt improve then it wont make any difference

  17. Martin Streat says:

    Why oh why are we still digging so deep and wide. Other countries are cutting slim slots by the kerb and using blown fibre trunking. Liquid cement or tarmac backfill. Don’t tell me because the regs say dig deep,change the bloody regs. That’s what Johnson for. This is so annoying. It’s not progress.

    1. TB says:

      They are cut deep to protect the cables/ducts from being crushed as even some rural roads will be 400-500mm deep in their construction. Ducts are run to future proof the route, cutting slim trenches with small fibre tubes is fine to save money/time but as we’ve seen in the long run with buried copper lines it makes upgrading tricky

  18. Billy says:

    There are videos on YouTube of these machines from 8,9,10 years ago from multiple countries and only now are we making use of this technology. Hand/face

    1. Squidgy says:

      The all new Marais cleanfast machine. https://2rentuk.com/innovation

  19. Craig Murtagh says:

    If there are any small civils companies that want to work with us on the Openreach network in Scotland, some Virgin works also, we would be interested to have a chat with you.

    Alternatively if not a company we are also looking for Operatives experienced in telecoms civils.

    Email details to craigmurtagh@smartcitycontractors.com

  20. Sloth says:

    Yet another misleading article; the Cleanfast does not lay ducts or reinstate (follow your own link); it cuts a trench and suchs out the debris, and is huge compared to may other trenchers because the waste goes into a glorified bin lorry. Try getting that on an urban footway!
    This is really old news; KCom used this kit, or very similar ~10 years ago.
    Looks like a load of Openreach promo to me

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