DIY Broadband for Devon Villages?Martin Langmaid
In the local news this morning was a piece on a row between BT and a local lord over telegraph poles ruining his view which has left an entire village without superfast fibre broadband.
It said that most of the work to connect Upton Pyne near Exeter has already been done, but the project has been delayed after BT and the Earl of Iddesleigh failed to agree on whether telegraph poles could be used across his land. Lord Iddesleigh said he wanted the cables buried as telegraph poles would ruin an unspoilt valley on his estate.
Last Leg Challenges
Telecoms companies refer colloquially to the final leg of their network as the ‘last mile’ – the edge of their network that actually delivers services to their customers, and it is nearly always that ‘last leg’ that creates the most challenges for them, both commercially and practically.
Practical challenges – such as bypassing private property or any tricky rerouting of cables that’s required due to the local geography adds additional cost to the already expensive process of getting men and machinery out into rural areas to dig up roads and lay telegraph poles to deliver the service. BTs own 2014 price list shows that laying new fibre over a 2000m distance costs £6125, that’s £3/M and those prices do not typically include excess construction costs for additional road side hardware such as termination boxes which can add £1000’s of pounds more.
Commercially, all telecoms companies have to weigh up the cost of network expansion against the commercial opportunity available in the new coverage areas – and when this doesn’t make sense, expansion projects can stall for years and even then the service that is delivered might only by ‘minimal’ by Ofcom standards of 10Mbps (which completely ignores the modern need for good upload speeds but that’s a rant for another day).
So what are the options? What do you do if you are still connected on old copper DSL with poor speeds and how can you get better service? Perhaps the biggest trend we’ve seen over the last few years has been DIY broadband fibre and WiFI installations – where community driven organisations and local commercial enterprises have stepped up to make it happen.
One such initiative, Northamptonshire-based Tove Valley Broadband (TVB), was set up by volunteer locals after they realised that faster internet speeds were not arriving any time soon. The not-for-profit group engaged a fibre installation company to lay fibre optic cables in trenches dug by a local land drainage contractor providing 30Mbps of internet connectivity to over 400 people.
B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) another community initiative founded in 2011 to bring self installation fibre broadband to eight parishes, now has ducts running over 2000 miles of cables connecting nearly 40 parishes with internet speeds as high at 1 gigabit per second. Made possible using a group of volunteers to lay down the ducting after getting farmers permission to access their land and use diggers and tractors to dig the trenches.
Point and Shoot
Where digging trenches and laying fibre doesn’t make sense – due to the distances, cost and topographies involved, we are seeing more broadband services delivered over the air using point to point WiFI. Examples of communities and companies stepping up to get connect good broadband areas to poor ones in this way exist all over the country, including here in Devon where Airband provide high speed internet across Dartmoor and Exmoor as part of the Connecting Devon and Somerset project.
As all of the main UK mobile network operators extend the reach and coverage of their networks, with the likes of EE doing so as a requirement of delivering the new Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), we have seen dramatic improvements in cellular data coverage and speeds over the last 12 months. It used to be that in most rural locations you would struggle to get a signal on your mobile phone to make a call, but now you’re much more likely to get 3G and 4G data speeds too and frequently this can provide more than enough bandwidth to run a business and stream digital content at home.
One of our main areas of focus here it Slingshot6 is solving connectivity challenges with cellular data – providing temporary internet access when connectivity has been lost, and also supplying cellular connectivity as the primary source of internet bandwidth for individuals and businesses across the country.
As the coverage and speeds provided by the mobile network operators continues to improve, so does the opportunity to connect to superfast broadband easily and quickly in more rural locations with our self install ‘turn on and connect’ rugged CloudCase, which comes with everything you need to get and stay connected just about anywhere.
How to connect Upton Pyne?
So what can be done to help with villagers of Upton Pyne get connected? From what we’ve heard and read it seems that BT are deep in negotiations about how to deliver the ‘last mile’ of connectivity in a way that suits all parties, and I’m optimistic that they will find a way forward. When they do, the residents of Upton Pyne will be awash with bandwidth from BTs fibre network and this installation blip will be long forgotten. Until then, or if it takes longer than expected, we’d be more than happy to bring some creative connectivity options to the businesses and homes in Upton Pyne – if you need to get connected, get in touch and we’ll find a way, its what we do.