Baker's Dozen of villages to see lots more full fibre from Openreach

Openreach is embarking on another set of trials to help it develop the skills to use different techniques to deploy full fibre and at the same time reduce the costs and time involved making an ambition to reach 15 million premises with full fibre by the mid 2020's more likely.

Today sees a list of 13 villages and market towns announced that are part of a 50,000 premises FTTP trial. In the order of the Openreach press release these are:

  • Cranfield

  • West Calder

  • Flockton

  • Hesketh Bank

  • Kentford

  • Lingfield

  • Lundin Links

  • Mickle Trafford

  • Okehampton

  • Ottery St Mary

  • Parbold

  • Seal

  • Tarporley

From our exchange database this list comprises some 38,000 premises, so it looks possible that maybe a few more villages will be added as the trial progresses.

The press release indicates that some customers are already connected, though nothing obvious has popped up when looking at the 13 exchanges. There is full fibre in some of these areas as you can see in the current state of play table at the end of the article, we had presumed it was your usual BDUK intervention for sub superfast premises as it fitted that pattern.

For those getting excited at the prospect of full fibre appearing some will be able to order FTTP in time for Christmas 2019 and half the premises are expected to have full fibre available to order by March 2020.

'At Openreach, we’ll never be just a city fibre provider. We’ve always worked hard to improve connections to isolated, less commercially attractive communities through inventive engineering and effective funding partnership models.

In recent years we’ve been extending our full fibre network into rural areas – mostly in partnership with local authorities and Government - but the economics are clearly challenging and we want to do more. We know that around 10 per cent of the country will need to the support of public subsidy, but these trials will help us test a bunch of new techniques that could help us in other rural areas.

The trials will also give us a much clearer picture of what the technical challenges in these kinds of rural areas are. We hope they’ll go a long way towards developing the tools, skills and innovations required to make sure that nobody’s left behind in the full fibre future'.

Clive Selley, Chief Executive of Openreach

The size of the Openreach FTTP footprint which is said to be some 1.8 million premises means that the traditional fusion splicing and connectorised deployment techniques are well known now, what makes these trials different is not just getting more Openreach staff deploying FTTP but a number of changes in how FTTP can be deployed.

Innovations and testing that the trials will involve:

  1. Adapting existing VDSL2 cabinets to utilise spare fibres to link the GPON network back to the aggregation node or handover exchange. This reduces the amount of new spine cabling required.

  2. Light signal boosters to increase the reach of the FTTP network to ensure that for premises a very long way from the active hardware at the handover exchange that GPON FTTP will work reliably.

  3. Diamond cutter trench tool which in theory should allow them to cover 700 metres in a day. 20 times faster than traditional dig methods and intended for use in areas where existing copper cable is directly buried (or just hidden in a hedge).

  4. Georipper, which is used for covering soft ground, such as fields and verges.

  5. Ground Penetrating Radar to help planning the roll-out easier and avoid any of the new digging techniques damaging existing infrastructure in the ground.

  6. Orion Mobile Planning, letting engineers see what should be in the ground on a tablet and submitting corrections and updates while in the field.

  7. The two new trenching tools will utilise micro-ducting, reducing the costs of deploying full ducting or more poles.

Anyone who has followed the many different FTTP operators working across the UK will recognise a good number of these techniques. The change is that Openreach is looking to use them now and once its workforce has got used to the new techniques the size of that workforce means there is scope to meet their build ambitions.

There is no guarantee given in the press release that every premises in the exchange areas will get covered, but the numbers suggest you will be unlucky to be missed out, or have an absentee landlord (or one who actively refuses the install of FTTP to a building).

Fingers crossed the trial will be used to actually evaluate how much time and therefore cost is involved in reaching the very hardest premises e.g. a cluster of 3 or 4 business units on an old farm 600 meters down a road on their own and already a kilometer or two outside the village.

Openreach is still at this stage saying that the investment conditions need to be right for it see its 15 million FTTP ambition to be reached. This means that while they may have played with the maths and decided that 90% full fibre is possible commercially they are assuming that others will also step up and ramp up their ambitions, the currently known ambitions add up to around 60 to 70% full fibre coverage commercially, the range being so wide due to the unknown of how much overbuild will happen.

For the Government if 90% full fibre coverage (as opposed to 90% Gigabit coverage) can be reached commercially or with existing subsidised projects completing by 2025 then the plans to spend £5 billion on the hardest to reach look a little more realistic, and cunningly the techniques that mean Openreach will do more commercially will help to reduce the costs in the more expensive areas, so what might have been £10,000 for a premises to get FTTP under the old techniques might be half of that in the future.

Current exchange coverage levels in the 13 FTTP areas. Where new build exists in these physical areas that was delivered with FTTP only infrastructure it will not appear as being on the closest exchange, but rather the handover exchange where the fibre is linked to.

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