Openreach adds 250,000 rural properties to full fibre rollout

(Image credit: Openreach)

Openreach’s full fibre deployment will cover an additional 250,000 homes and businesses in rural locations across the UK thanks to technologies developed during village trials covering 50,000 properties.

The innovations reduce the complexity of rolling out fibre cables, saving significant amounts of time and effort – factors which can increase the cost of deployment. Indeed, the savings are significant enough that areas previously considered not to be economically viable can be included.

The headline technology is a diamond cutter that can slice through pavements and roads and lay tubing for fibre. It is capable of installing 700 metres of cable every day – more than 20 times what can be achieved with current excavation methods. This speeds up deployment by a matter of months.

Openreach fibre

Openreach is also using a ‘Ditch Witch’ that carves narrow trenches into soft ground and allows for the deployment of small fibre cables of up to 150 metres. This method is ten times faster than doing it manually.

Finally, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) sends radio waves through the ground to identify the optimum route for deployment. This reduces disruption caused by road closures and minimises the risk of impacting existing network infrastructure already in the ground.

Network construction will commence within the next 14 months and contribute to Openreach’s previous stated target of reaching four million premises by 2021. More than 200 locations are covered by this latest expansion.

“Our full fibre build programme is going great guns - having passed over 2 million premises already on the way to our 4m target by March 2021,” declared Openreach CEO Clive Selley. “We’re now building at around 26,000 premises a week in over 100 locations – reaching a new home or business every 23 seconds That’s up from 13,000 premises a week this time last year.”

The current government target for switching off the UK’s copper network is 2033, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants this brought forward to 2025. The industry has said such an ambitious goal isn’t out of the question – but only if regulations are favourable and government financial support is present.

The government believes that up to 80 per cent of the country will be covered by commercial deployments from BT and others, but wants industry to go further. Some have placed the total cost of extending coverage nationwide – including rural areas – at £30 billion.

Openreach believes it can connect more parts of the country – if it is given economic support. Last week, the government detailed a £5 billion package to extend fibre coverage.

“Our ambition is to reach 15 million premises by mid-2020s if right investment conditions are in place,” added Selley. “Currently, the biggest missing piece of this puzzle is getting an exemption from business rates on building fibre cables which is critical for any fibre builder’s long-term investment case.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.