Tools and Technology Sharpen UK’s Broadband Plan

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Openreach, a subsidiary of UK telecom giant the BT Group, plans to bring fiber broadband to four million UK homes and businesses by March 2021 with the aid of advanced fiber-laying tools. BBC News reported that Openreach’s strategy to use state-of-the-art tools and techniques is designed to speed up the build-out and reduce labor costs.

“As much as 70 percent of the cost of rolling out broadband is in the civil works – the digging, manual labor and road closures that go with it,” said Matthew Howett, founder of research firm Assembly.

 “So, any innovations that reduce these costs will ultimately result in broadband being deployed faster, and to more people.”

Also, in a nod to the frustration most operators are experiencing over business rates associated with the build out of broadband infrastructure, Howett said, “It’s a barrier that the whole industry is behind removing. Currently in England, the exemption only lasts for five years, and 10 years in Scotland, but for the operators the business case for rolling out fiber is over a much longer period, often over 15 years.” 

Although only eight percent of all UK premises are reportedly connected to full-fiber broadband, BBC News stated that Openreach has already connected more than two million premises to full-fiber broadband.

“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,” said Openreach Chief Executive Clive Selley.

While not new to telecom, the use of fiber-related tools (ditch witch and diamond cutters) and ground-penetrating radar technologies are key components for Openreach to meet their proposed goal of connecting 15 million UK homes and businesses by the middle of the decade. 

Andrew Ferguson, editor of the Thinkbroadband website said, “Openreach has been talking about and using some of these techniques for a while now, but with the expansion to more areas, no doubt there will be more use of these techniques,” he said.

The UK is currently ranked 45th in fixed broadband worldwide.

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