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i3 Group Scraps Plan to use Bournemouth UK Sewers for Fibre Optic Broadband

Posted: 13th Aug, 2010 By: MarkJ
fibrecity uk logoThe i3 Group has reportedly been forced to scrap Fibrecity plans for using the underground sewage system in Bournemouth to spread its "super-fast" 100Mbps Fibre-to-the-Home ( FTTH ) fibre optic broadband ISP network around the city. It's understood that Wessex Water, which is responsible for the sewers, at some point over the past few months simply decided not to go ahead with the plan on both technical and business-related grounds.

The i3 Group had originally pioneered the use of new technologies, including existing ducts in the water networks via its patented FS System, to build low cost fibre optic infrastructures that bring super fast connectivity to homes and business.

Indeed the solution itself has long been seen as i3's unique selling point because laying fibre optic cables through existing undergrounds sewer infrastructure is significantly cheaper than digging up roads.

Despite all this it's now been revealed by ZDNet UK that i3 Group's much touted solution never even managed to get past the pilot stage, which connected Bournemouth's town hall with the nearby BIC convention centre.

Wessex Water spokesman, Ian Drury, said:

"The reason the project in Bournemouth didn't move forward was because there were contractual problems. The technology methodology didn't work for us, nor did the reward for placing the cables in the sewers.

We would certainly look at other proposals should they arise, if the terms and conditions are right for us. We haven't ruled out putting fibre-optic cables in sewers."

This story might cause a few readers to scratch their heads because the i3 Group are already offering 100Mbps capable FTTH services in Bournemouth and have been doing so since the first supporting ISPs were announced in February this year (original news). So just how are they doing it? According to the comments made by some angry locals for this Daily Echo article, they're back to digging up roads and pavements.

It's worth pointing out that the original pilot in Bournemouth took place all the way back in 2007. New Fibrecity projects in Dundee are also just getting started and the i3 Group aims to reach more than 1 million UK homes and businesses over the next four years. Furthermore i3 appears to have no problems working with other infrastructure operators, such as Scottish Water.

i3 confirmed in May this year that Fibrecity networks are now also planned for Derby, Halton, Nottingham, Plymouth and York, with a target to commence building within the next 12 months. This at least suggests that i3 Group's inability to reach an agreement with Wessex Water in Bournemouth hasn't prevented its expansion. They are also known to be studying the possibility of expanding into rural locations too.

Geo, one of i3's rivals, has also suggested that in some areas the sewer systems can simply lack enough space/spare capacity to carry the fibre optic infrastructure, which might otherwise risk causing a blockage. This can apparently be a particular problem for smaller sewers in some residential or suburban areas.

At present there is no heavy regulation to cover the laying of fibre optic cable through underground sewers, which is predominantly down to commercial negotiation and agreements between the two parties. However the government and Ofcom are pushing towards a new position that could force all infrastructure providers, from BT Openreach's cable ducts to underground sewer operators, to open up their access.

So far i3 Group has reportedly refused to comment on the above report, sighting reasons of commercial confidentiality and so forth.

UPDATE 10:29am

We have been able to get a good comment from i3 Group, read it HERE.
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