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Radar technology helps to speed up next generation broadband upgrade in Salisbury

Press release   •   Jun 10, 2019 13:52 BST

Openreach engineer using the GPR to detect hidden obstacles before digging in fibre cables, in Salisbury

Openreach engineers will use ground penetrating radar (GPR) technology for the first time to help minimise disruption and speed up the deployment of cutting-edge Fibre-to-the-Premises broadband infrastructure (FTTP) in Salisbury.

Using GPR allows Openreach’s engineers to see and map out a clear route for its new cables without any drilling, probing or digging. That means it can avoid the need for disruptive road closures and minimise the risk of obstructing or damaging any existing infrastructure already buried underground.

The technology is being used to support another new engineering technique called micro ducting – one of a raft of innovations being employed to make Salisbury the first entire city in the country to gain access to the company’s ultrafast full fibre broadband.

Openreach’s Chief Engineer Andy Whale, said: “This is the first location in the UK where we’re aiming to upgrade an entire city network in a single year, so it’s a hugely ambitious project, but being able to use time and cost saving innovations like radar and micro ducting, combined with the unrivalled experience and skill of our engineering teams - means that we can have more confident that it’s achievable.

“We’re constantly looking at ways of improving and evolving the build process, and these are just the latest additions to our innovations toolkit.

“Micro ducting allows our teams to install new cables much more quickly – up to 300 metres each day. The technique is also less disruptive for local residents, reducing the amount building work – road works and all the associated disruption - by about 50 per cent, and it also uses fewer resources so it helps to reduce our costs and build times.

“Using radar also makes the whole process safer. We’re digging into pavements that have other utilities like electricity, gas and water buried underneath. The last thing we want to do is cut off people’s supply by accidentally damaging a cable, so GPR means we can keep that risk to an absolute minimum.”

Following successful trials, Salisbury is the first location in the UK where Openreach is using these new building methods, with engineering teams connecting an initial 130 premises in Bemerton, in the Western part of the city, over the coming weeks.

Whilst Openreach is typically reusing many of its existing poles and underground ducts to build the new network, the company believes micro-ducting could be a useful option when it comes to extending the network into areas that don’t have any existing infrastructure.

Openreach is aiming for its ‘Fibre First’ build programme in Salisbury to be completed within a year, and it will deliver fibre optic broadband cables from the exchange directly to more than 20,000 premises across the city. When the build is complete, families, businesses and public buildings across the city of Salisbury will be able to reap the benefits of fast, reliable and future-proof broadband for decades to come.

Openreach is working closely with partners across the city to make sure the infrastructure build can happen at an unrivalled pace and with minimal disruption to local residents. With this close collaboration, and the expertise Openreach has accumulated over many years of fibre broadband delivery, the company hopes to have its new services ready to order throughout the city by April 2020.

Salisbury is one of 38 locations across the UK have now been included in the first phase of Openreach’s multi-million pound Fibre First programme. More than 1.2 million homes and businesses across the country now have access to fast, more reliable and future-proof FTTP broadband services over the Openreach network, since the launch of the programme last year. Openreach aims to reach four million homes and businesses with ‘full fibre’ broadband by the end of 2020, with an ambition is to reach 15 million premises by the mid-2020s, and ultimately, the majority of the UK, if the right conditions to invest are in place.

Openreach has a dedicated Fibre First section of its website with lots of information about our full fibre build programme, including a short video which explains what Full Fibre technology is

People interested in upgrading their broadband to new ultrafast services can see if they’re able to connect by entering their postcode into Openreach’s online fibre checker at openreach.co.uk.

-ENDS-

For further information

Enquiries about this story can be made to the Openreach PR team on 020 7809 7950 or email; press@openreach.co.uk. All news releases can be accessed on our web site.

Notes to Editors

Micro ducting and Ground Penetrating Radar Explained;

  • The GPR uses a transmitter to send pulses of high frequency radio waves through the ground which bounce back off objects hidden underground to a receiving antenna which creates a digital ‘picture’ or cross-section of what lies underneath from the signal variations.
  • Once a clear route is identified, engineers use a specialised twin bladed digger- so that both sides of the channel can be dug at the same time, to cut a narrow 250mm deep trench. Armoured micro duct tubing is laid directly into the ground – through which engineers can feed fibre optic cables that will connect up nearby premises.
  • Micro ducting uses specialist digging tools to excavate a small trench along pavements so that specially reinforced micro ducts can accommodate the fibre optic cables without any specialised equipment, saving time in deployment and build costs.
  • The use of micro ducting is especially effective in some areas where properties are connected to the broadband network by old copper cables that have been buried directly into the ground and replacing them with underground ducting or telegraph poles to carry new fibre cables would physically be too difficult or costly. Around 4,000 premises across the city are currently served by copper cables that are buried directly in the ground – and so could potentially benefit from the new micro ducting technique.
  • Micro ducting also enables engineers to install fibre cables – with permission of the property owner - right up to the outside wall of a premises, helping to further reduce time and costs – by cutting out repeat visits to connect up customers.

Our Fibre First Programme Build Locations:

Date of Openreach announcement Town, city or borough
February 2018 1. Birmingham 5. Leeds 2. Bristol 6. Liverpool 3. Cardiff 7. London

4. Edinburgh 8. Manchester

June 2018 9. Exeter
September 2018 10. The Wirral
October 2018 11. Coventry
November 2018 12. Nottingham
November 2018 13. Belfast
December 2018 14. Swansea
January 2019 15. Bury 16. Barking & Dagenham 17. Bexley

18. Croydon

19. Greater Glasgow

20. Harrow 21. Merton 22. Redbridge

23. Salford

24. Sutton Coldfield

25. Richmond Upon Thames

March 2019 26. Salisbury
April 2019 27. Armagh 28. Bangor 29. Ballymena

30. Greater Belfast

31. Coleraine

32. Derry-Londonderry

33. Enniskillen

34. Lisburn

35. Larne

36. Newry

37. Newtownards

38. Stockport

What difference does full fibre broadband make?

Full fibre or ultrafast broadband provides more reliable, resilient and future-proof connectivity; fewer faults; more predictable, consistent speeds and the ability to upgrade easily to meet the demands of future technology. Ultrafast broadband makes everything happen so much more quickly. For example;

  • Businesses, including small businesses operating from home, will be able remain economically competitive all over the UK and around the world. Ultrafast will make uploading, downloading and transferring large files much easier and allow for uninterrupted monitoring, video conferencing and streaming.
  • It only takes a few minutes to back-up valuable information and businesses no longer need to worry about routine back-ups.
  • Without customer and billing data businesses would fail. Fibre broadband means they can back up data off site and securely archive it so not have to rely on ageing servers sitting under a desk.
  • Businesses can access data, files and information easily and securely – and from almost anywhere.
  • Fibre broadband allows businesses to make their marketing digital, reaching customers through new, faster, richer and easier to track communications - all over the world.
  • Ultrafast broadband enables the people within your home to be online at the same time. You’ll be able to do several things simultaneously such as streaming live music, enjoying the latest release on streaming platforms, and uploading large files to social media. There’s enough bandwidth for a family of four to all stream ultra HD or 4k quality movies or TV simultaneously, without waiting or buffering. In fact, downloading a typical HD film would take less time than it takes to make a cup of tea.

As the UK become more connected than ever before, full fibre broadband will ensure a reliable connection to millions of homes across the country – whether it’s turning up the heating from the comfort of your sofa

or checking in on an ageing parent through a telehealth app.

About Openreach

Openreach Limited is the UK’s digital network business.

We’re 33,000 people, working in every community to connect homes, schools, shops, banks, hospitals, libraries, mobile phone masts, broadcasters, governments and businesses – large and small – to the world.

Our mission is to build the best possible network, with the highest quality service, making sure that everyone in the UK can be connected.

We work on behalf of more than 620 communications providers like SKY, TalkTalk, Vodafone, BT and Zen, and our fibre broadband network is the biggest in the UK, passing more than 27.5m UK premises

Over the last decade we’ve invested more than £13 billion into our network and, at more than 173 million kilometres – it’s now long enough to wrap around the world 4,314 times.

Today we’re building an even faster, more reliable and future-proof broadband network which will be the UK’s digital platform for decades to come. We’re on track to reach four million premises with this ‘full fibre’ technology by March 2021 and ultimately, we want to upgrade the majority of the UK if the conditions are right. We’re also hiring around 3,000 trainee engineers this year to help us build that network and deliver better service across the country.

Openreach is a highly regulated, wholly owned, and independently governed division of the BT Group. More than 90 per cent of our revenues come from services that are regulated by Ofcom and any company can access our products under equivalent prices, terms and conditions.

For the year ended 31 March 2019, we reported revenues of £5.1bn.

For more information, visit openreach.co.uk