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VIDEO – Openreach and Zen Solve Complex FTTP Install with Drone UPDATE

Thursday, Apr 11th, 2024 (10:00 am) - Score 6,600
2024-Openreach-engineer-flying-drone-for-house-install-Zen-PR-090424

Over the past few years’ we’ve covered a number of examples where Openreach (BT) have deployed teams of UK drone operators to help deploy their 1.8Gbps speed Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network. But in today’s case, ISP Zen Internet has documented a rather unique home installation, where airborne drones came in handy.

Openreach first used a drone deployment to help install the fibre optic cable for a new FTTP network near Pontfadog in Mid-Wales in late 2017. A year later, the team used drones to fly a fibre cable across a river to reach a remote property in the Highlands of Scotland.

The use of drones has since become a strategic part of Openreach’s operations to navigate obstacles on more complex sites and is used as a time saving solution vs traditional methods, which might otherwise take days to complete. The latest such example comes from Zen Internet, where a collaboration with Openreach enabled them to run fibre in a new build home, which was perched on a complicated hill, using drones.

Traditional methods would have made solving this kind of installation very difficult and potentially much more expensive. But the use of a drone enabled the engineering team to manoeuvre the required cables over gardens, fences and nearby properties to eventually reach the new build site and connect the home to FTTP broadband. Check out the video below for a nice little summary.

UPDATE 11:04am

We’ve had it confirmed that the “customer” of the service is also Zen’s Key Account Manager, thus it’s unclear whether a regular customer in the same sort of situation could expect identical treatment.

UPDATE 2pm

Openreach informed us that when engineers come to such properties to assess the terrain/situation, a drone can be “regularly deemed as the best solution“. This would be procedure for such complex locations “no matter the type of customer“, which they say indicates no preferential treatment.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
32 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Matt says:

    Do they mean “Zen Customer” rather than “Zen Employee” in the video ?? Else it’s a bit self-serving if the staff are doing it for themselves, with the nice PR piece ? 🙂

  2. Avatar photo Steve says:

    This video does themselves no favours when an account manager poses as a customer without making that clear on the video. My take is it’s bordering on misrepresentation and puts me off Zen for doing it.

    1. Avatar photo binary says:

      The caption with his name does state “Zen Employee”.

      However it does seem a bit odd when he says “the communication from Zen has been really positive, I’ve been kept up to date with progression …” etc.

    2. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Poor PR stunt, Zen should know better.

  3. Avatar photo binary says:

    Drones have the potential to make installing so-called “flying wires” much easier for Openreach and altnets – these are wires that ‘fly’ over another property or properties (such as gardens) and don’t need a wayleave if access to the ‘flown over’ property is not required for installation.

    I suppose in doing so it could also increase the potential for neighbourly disputes and ill-feeling too!

  4. Avatar photo Not a key account manager says:

    Haha, no if you are not manager at Zen, BT or OR then sorry but we don’t currently cover your address.

  5. Avatar photo OMI says:

    I guess the days of engineers taping a hammer to the end of the wire and throwing it are gone?!!

    1. Avatar photo Matt says:

      I mean you can. the fibre probably won’t work particularly well, and then there’s the damage to whatever the hammer lands on…

    2. Avatar photo Aled says:

      I would lOVE to watch a YouTube highlights reel of these attempts gone well/badly!

      I must say I have questions from this video. I’m really not sure what they’ve done. If I pause the video at the apparent moment of the drone carrying the FTTP cable, it looks like they’re flying the cable directly over 1x home, through that homes garden, over some trees and into the property. I’m not qualified to know if that’s “best practice”.

      I just don’t know if I would be comfortable with a random cable just dragged over my roof, then dragged over the top of some trees – although thinking about it, perhaps the drone can be navigated through the trees in a controlled route.

      Not trying to say it’s a bad solution. It’s my Engineering brain failing to comprehend what I’m seeing 🙂

  6. Avatar photo Stuart says:

    The account manager is indeed a zen customer, albeit a customer receiving a discount of up to 100% of the cost with added benefits, such as expidited installs, both are things a regular customer may not receive.

    1. Avatar photo Ian the engineer says:

      There was absolutely no expediting of the order. The drone was not used as a privilege for being a member of staff, being a staff member just meant Zen had a opportunity to video the process.

  7. Avatar photo Sam P says:

    The negativity here in the comments is wild. I thought the drone was cool.

    1. Avatar photo Steve says:

      I agree the drone is good and makes sense, that’s not the problem. The problem is someone has posed as a customer, and although the video makes clear it’s a Zen employee, it doesn’t make it clear they are a national account manager. That’s what the problem is not the drone, it’s a bad look.

    2. Avatar photo Alex says:

      How do you POSE as a customer? Surely he just is a customer.
      He’s not an actor. They’ve been transparent about his name and him being an employee, and the fact it’s his home.
      I understand some elements of envy and scepticism about whether he’s got preferential treatment or not as a Zen employee, but at the end of the day, he’s still a customer.
      Why does everyone need to be so publicly outraged about everything these days…

    3. Avatar photo Ben says:

      The only mention that he is an employee is a caption in the video, which may be missed. The concern is he is acting like a normal customer, even reviewing their customer service. If people missed the caption, they may get the impression it is an unbiased review. In reality if he didn’t get regular updates, he could walk downstairs and shout at someone!

      Companies need to be 100% clear in their communications.

    4. Avatar photo Dialup says:

      Most people around here like to moan, makes them feel better, bless them.

    5. Avatar photo Carly fox says:

      Nothing about Telcoms is ‘cool’

      The industry attract the weakest and worst.

    6. Avatar photo aled says:

      Jeez, I don’t know why some people get so wound up.

      Apparently, some people are not capable of reading a very clear, large text warning, that the interviewer also happens to be a Zen employee. They literally couldn’t have made it any clearer. Now he could be the CEO for all I care, and sure, his comments are gushingly positive and sickly sweet. But having worked in Sales/Marketing departments – ALL interviews like this are essentially pre-written and are borderline fabricated whenever the Marketing pixies get their cameras out for PR.

      This way, it’s just 100% easier to get customer permission to video it. Otherwise – you end up with the Marketing team calling up random customers (who may be extremely weird) and begging to be allowed to video members of the public for a day, signing GDPR/permission contracts etc. It becomes a mess and I can totally see why they’ed record this with an internal staff member

  8. Avatar photo VR Dan says:

    Such strange comments near the top! Zen have used an opportunity with an employee, who is also a customer as he has his connectivity with them, to show an emerging, exciting and absolute time saver of an initiative for everyone involved. What is there to be negative about? The video shows “Zen Employee”. If you lived in that house with the same circumstances you’d have had a drone too, you don’t need permission or privilege for OR to save a bit of time and money. It just depends on location, availability and circumstances.

    Thank you Zen for sharing this very interesting and optimistic post.

    1. Avatar photo Matt says:

      See Ben’s comment on the thread above as its spot on.

      But reviewing Zen’s customer service, and only flagging you’re a Zen employee in the caption is pretty weak.

      It looks like they’re trying to pass it off as a genuine “normal” customer, and heaping praise on Zen – but it’s an employee. So all of that should be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

  9. Avatar photo JP says:

    Until I see this in practice, this is just a PR stunt, roaming around forums will show someone every week being told they can’t have fibre for reasons this is supposed to counteract.

    It’s innovative but unlikely to be in affect currently or anytime soon.

    1. Avatar photo Tony says:

      It’s hardly a PR stunt from Openreach, it’s used a lot in East Anglia around The Fens to get cables over the large drains and dykes that cross-cross the area during the build phases.

  10. Avatar photo Vince says:

    And yet I’ve had many failed installs because they’re not even keen on getting a ladder out. Uh huh.

    Sure they would do this for the average customer.

    1. Avatar photo The witcher says:

      End of the day it’s the attending techs decision if they want to request drone support. If they are that disinterested that they don’t want to get a ladder out they are unlikely to go to the bother of filling out a formwize. I don’t know if the option is available to contractors.

  11. Avatar photo Flame Henry says:

    Imagine watching your neighbour spend vast amounts of money on their dream home only to discover their plan for fibre connectivity is to string a cable directly over your entire house and garden!

    1. Avatar photo Roger_Gooner says:

      Cables can pass over land “adjacent to or in the vicinity of” telegraph poles without the permission of the landowner as long as:

      – The operator does not need to enter the land.
      – The cable is at least 3 metres above ground, or 2 metres above a building.
      – The cable does not interfere with any business (defined as “trade, profession or employment”) for which the land is used.

      In this case the pole is remote but I’d think that a sensible application of the law will still enable Openreach to legally run the cable and, more importantly, Openreach’s lawyers will probably have given the go-ahead for this.

  12. Avatar photo MilesT says:

    I remember watching Fred Dibhah on TV slinging a cable for some project using a bow and arrow.

    Safe enough if you use a blunt head arrow (simialr to what historical re-enactors use for mock battles)

  13. Avatar photo Robert Rantin says:

    Wow….using a drone to help with FTTP….its a pity that openreach can’t do a simple FTTP at BT35…..meanwhile we are paying BT for broadband and phone line at around £49 per month with only 15mbps

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Did they give an explanation why they couldn’t install?

  14. Avatar photo Alan Harten says:

    I’d be interested in knowing the king of drone equipment that gets used, if anyone is familiar?

    1. Avatar photo The witcher says:

      DJI drones I believe

    2. Avatar photo LJW says:

      That appears to be a DJI Mavic Pro. I have had one and recently sold it to local farmer to keep a watch on his crops.

      I wouldn’t have felt comfortable hanging anything from it, its simply not designed to work under those conditions.

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