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Openreach Trial Air Wand to Boost UK FTTP Broadband Rollout

Sunday, September 19th, 2021 (12:01 am) - Score 11,664
Openreach-FTTP-Engineer-Using-Vacuum-Extraction

Openreach (BT) has confirmed to ISPreview.co.uk that they, alongside partner Circet and others, have begun trials of a new ‘Air Wand‘ (aka – Air Sabre or Air Lance) machine, which uses compressed air or high pressure water to break the ground and could speed up the rollout of their Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network.

At present the operator’s £15bn full fibre deployment has already covered over 5.2 million UK homes and businesses (1.9 million were added during 2020/21). After that, their current ambition is to reach 25 million by December 2026, which will include around 6.2 million premises in rural and semi-rural areas.

Suffice to say, anything that can make this huge project go even faster and be more cost-effective is obviously something that Openreach would be interested in exploring. In practice, a lot of those sorts of tools and machines already exist, but the operator has to conduct their own trials before deciding whether to adopt them.

The latest system or machine to join this club is called Air Wand, which actually references a trial of both the Air Lance / Sabre (DitchWitch Air Sabre) and Vacuum Extraction (Ditch Witch Vac Ex). We first spotted these being used in Derry (Northern Ireland) to help dig new poles (telegraph poles) for FTTP, but they’re also playing around with them in Lytham St Annes (Lancashire, England).

Openreach Ditch Witch Air Saber and Vacuum

The use of compressed air can often make it both quicker and safer to excavate through ground. As part of this Openreach are using the Vac Ex Plus (pictured above), which is a multi-functional vehicle with the ability to vacuum excavate, deploy air compressor for air tools, on board water for high pressure water jetting and a jetting system for clearing duct blockages.

Openreach uses the high-pressure air and water excavation system to dig down through the ground, while any material is then quickly carried away by the powerful vacuum.

Openreach Engineer Using Air Saber

The “new” approach (well.. it’s new for Openreach) is, we’re told, “proving to be more efficient than hand digging, especially [when] completing laterals in the footway from the kerb side to the customers curtilage.” The Vac Ex Plus is also being utilised for excavating in the footway for new footway modular boxes.

Most recently the Vac Ex Plus was deployed to complete 30 metres of track work in a highly populated footway, which helped to avoid the risk from accidentally striking gas, electric and water suppliers, as well as the cables or ducting for other communication services.

None of this is particularly new to the wider civil engineering industry, but adoption of such things does take time, and some are quicker at that than others. In any case, we expect to see a lot more of this being used in the future.

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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.
Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Anon says:

    “their current ambition is to reach 25 million by December 2021”
    this a typo?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Oops, yes :). Fixed.

  2. Jimbo says:

    Seen this before in Germany,

    Some the engineers,used to break old clay pipes for sewage and drainage.

    One engineer told me,that he hit a broken pipe and blew shit everywhere in someones downstairs bathroom!

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