Broadband News

Openreach breaks out the mole for Northumberland

Nothumberland with 90% superfast coverage may be lagging behind England which is sitting at 93.7% but this is a significant improvement on the 59.6% coverage that existed in the county in February 2014 when the BDUK project in the area got underway.

Fibre duct drum feeding mole plough
Click image for larger version

Fibre ducting installation in Northumberland

Openreach has highlighted some of the challenges that the project has met and released a couple of pictures of the high tech mole plough that they've been using in some locations. Mole ploughing is quicker in terms of covering distance compared to traditional trenching techniques used for ducting and as the pictures show if verges are available with no danger of damaging other utilities you can work on single track roads keeping road closures to a minimum.

Mole Plough
Click image for larger version

Fibre ducting installation in Northumberland

One neat little trick seems to have been using a fishing rod and line to get a across the River Till - if they need to try the same at a wider crossing can we be the first to suggest an archery competition, with a price for whoever gets closet to the desired landing point.

"Getting fibre broadband to homes and businesses in sparsely-populated, rural areas is not easy. We know how the technology works and we know how to get it from A to B but that doesn’t factor in rivers with no convenient bridges, little or no existing infrastructure, ancient monuments, private land or wildlife. Planning and surveying is a huge part of our work but there are still some things you simply can’t plan for.

When we were building the network out to Kirkwhelpington we’d only just solved the problem of rats nesting in the our underground chambers, when we came across a pond full of great crested newts on land we needed to build a new duct under. Things like that create unavoidable delays and, of course, it’s always at the back of our minds that local communities are desperate for the technology to arrive.

All the things that make Northumberland such an incredible place to live and work are also the things that make this roll-out difficult. In a large town or city a new fibre cabinet can be relatively simple to build and can provide services to hundreds of people. In Northumberland a cabinet can take months of planning followed by months of civil engineering and the end result may only be providing faster broadband to a handful of people. But for those people it’s absolutely vital this work takes place."

Mike Reynolds, Openreach spokesperson for the North East

The Openreach press release indicates some 150,000 residents and businesses now have access, and for those who like playing with the figures, remember that a household often holds more than one resident. From our data we can see some 219 cabinets delivered via the original BDUK contract, and another 36 so far from the Superfast Extension Project (signed in June 2016), there is an additional ~1850 premises where GEA-FTTP is now available. The rural nature of the ground covered is revealed by the gap between VDSL2 enabled and superfast available, with some 15% connected to a cabinet but likely to get under 24 Mbps on the cabinets enabled via the original project - this will likely improve as the extension project may revisit areas with infill cabinets or as we are also seeing longer very slow lines are seeing GEA-FTTP as their option. The gap between VDSL2 availability and superfast is much smaller when you look at the overall Northumberland picture because in the more urban commercial areas it is not uncommon for every premise to be within superfast range.

The Openreach press release talks of some 2,500 premises passed by native FTTP which seems at odds with our ~1,850 figure, in the past this gap has shown to be down to it taking us a little longer sometimes to find all the native FTTP and we believe in some other areas at times the Openreach figures do include those in an area that has been partially built and the extra premises are due to get the service.

The Rothbury area adds some premises to the overall figures (i.e. six cabinets) but we should point out that the figure of 580 live cabinets on the projects site we believe includes the commercial footprint.


yeah yeah we get it - the areas they love get the mole the rest of us get jack.

  • ZenUser27
  • about 1 year ago

Should have been using it all along where viable. VDSL is still a failure when infill cabinets are sited too far from the properties they are meant to serve.

  • brianhe
  • about 1 year ago

Any idea which infill cabinet has been deployed that is too far to serve properties? Doing so would be pretty daft as projects only pay for the number of premises that can actually achieve superfast speeds.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

More evidence for the view that BT has realised, far too late, that trying to leverage the revenue from copper-based technologies was a serious error.

@Andrew - brianhe can respond to your specific query, but it is my firm view that FTTC is a wholly inappropriate technology for the provision of broadband in rural areas. The BDUK scheme has, up until now, paid BT on the basis of "white area" postcodes and it is only now that open market review data is drilling down to premises level.

The "CBS Data Book" used in Scotland has been found in some cases to have premises data with errors > 40%!

  • GraceCourt
  • about 1 year ago

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