One sunny/rainy day (depending on when you looked out the window), we hitched a ride with some nice chaps from BT to go and meet some of the Openreach engineers who are working on the Connecting Shropshire project to bring fibre broadband to Salopians. (Fibre optic cable is being installed in parallel to the existing copper network, allowing digital information to be sent through glass fibres, reducing electrical resistance and increasing speeds).
First up we met Sam and Andy, working like beavers at the roadside near Cross Houses. After the introductions and seeing the little hole where they have all the cables (technical term, honest), we asked Sam what his main job was.
“I run the cabling from A to B.” He said. “Its four little tubes, inside a tube. So you can see here the box, and in between these boxes you have the ducts, and it’s through there we need to pull the tubing.”
As you can see from the diagram, the cables run between the boxes along ducts, and the only way to connect the fibre is to pull the tubing through from one box to the next. Since the beginning of the Connecting Shropshire programme, over 139 kilometres of fibre have been pulled through. It’s hard work. Engineers like Sam and Andy, need to hand rod up to 100 metres of cable to connect the two boxes.
“The target is 400-500 metres a day.” Sam explained. “Yesterday we didn’t manage as much, which is a bit disheartening. Some days it’s good and we can get 600-700 metres done. Which makes up for days like yesterday.”
The obvious question at this point was, what happened yesterday? Put simply, problems. Looking at the work they are doing, it’s not hard to see how challenging it can sometimes be. Following the flooding earlier this year, engineers have been hampered by flooded boxes and the silt and mud they leave behind.
“During the floods it wasn’t too bad actually,” Sam said. “Some of the boxes were flooded but we managed to work away from the lower ground where most the flooding was at the time.”
“If there’s snow on the ground it can make things much more difficult,” Andy added, “but we’ve been lucky this year.”
When the ground is frozen, opening up the boxes themselves can be a tricky and time-consuming task – it is this job of opening up the box that Andy is getting on with while we talk to Sam. However, while some boxes can prove troublesome for Andy to get into, it is the silt-clogged ducts after flooding that can delay the pair even more, Sam said.
“We were working up past Harmer Hill and up there when there’s a lot of rain the boxes are full of water. We’ve got pumps that we can pump the water out. We cabled two sections out of seven but five of them were covered in silt. So we had to get a jetter in and wash it all through.”
“It’s not an easy job.” Sam continued. “When it’s nice and the sun’s out and the job’s going well, it’s a good place to work. But if it’s cold, raining, the duct is flooded or blocked and work is slow… it’s obviously less enjoyable if I’m honest!”
Not only do the pair have to contend with the weather making their jobs harder at times, they also have to be wary of traffic – on busy roads like today, they can only work outside rush hour between 9:30am and 3:30pm when the traffic lights can be used.
Our time with the engineers is sadly nearly up as otherwise we’d be holding them back from doing their job, and given the competitive glint in Sam’s eyes when he talked about the targets we didn’t want to delay him too long. But before we left, we asked what the average day for them went like.
“We start at 6:30 in the morning then finish at 6:40.” Sam replied, quickly adding, “That’s night, not in the morning!”
Their 40 hour working week, sometimes made up of 12 hour days is not easy. Add on top of that the physical nature of the work and you suddenly feel a huge amount of respect for them. Both Sam and Andy genuinely seemed to be enjoying what they do, especially as round Shropshire when people see they are laying fibre broadband they get “excited and chatty”.
Long before the public see them, however, they work to load up the trailers going to “traffic sensitive areas” or head off to quieter, more rural areas to get a few hours of cabling done there before the 9:30am marker allows them to work on the busier roads. After the 3:30pm mark, they head back to quieter areas to make the most of the hours in the day.
The sound of the troublesome box hatch opening is our cue to leave them in peace and let them get on with the job in hand. As Sam clambers down into the box, we ask what he did before this.
“I used to work selling phones; it was quite different I can tell you!”
With that, Sam ducks inside the box to get to work while Andy gets the equipment they need for the next stage of the day’s work. It’s difficult to appreciate just what a huge task building the fibre network across Shropshire is but, piece by piece, the big build is taking shape.
A further £1,454,257 has been awarded to Connecting Shropshire by the government to provide over 1,000 additional rural premises with access to faster fibre broadband.
This extra coverage will be provided under an extension to the current Connecting Shropshire programme being rolled-out by BT in partnership with Shropshire Council and Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK). Coverage details will be confirmed once technical surveys of the areas have been completed.
Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council cabinet member for broadband, said: “The Connecting Shropshire programme team have worked extremely hard to bring in this additional funding, which backs up our pledge as a Council to do all we can to secure additional funding to give access to fibre based broadband to as many homes and businesses in the Council area as possible.”
Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: “This additional funding is excellent news for Shropshire and the extra £1,454,257 will take superfast broadband to an extra 1,000 premises that would otherwise have had to wait. The UK already does more business online than any other European country and widespread access to superfast speeds will provide a welcome boost to Shropshire’s economy.”
Rural Affairs Minister Dan Rogerson said: “Fast and reliable broadband coverage is crucial to building stronger rural economies and enabling farmers and all rural businesses to grow and thrive. This extra funding will allow rural businesses to benefit and will help close the rural and urban divide in broadband coverage.”
Albrighton, Cosford, Halfway House, Minsterley, Pontesbury, Westbury and Yockleton are latest communities to ‘go live’
The multi-million pound Connecting Shropshire partnership rolling out faster fibre broadband across the county continues to gain momentum, partners Shropshire Council and BT confirmed as the ambitious programme celebrates its first anniversary today (March 27).
Around 6,500 homes and businesses are now able to connect to the technology thanks to the Connecting Shropshire partnership. And in the last two weeks Albrighton, Cosford, Halfway House, Minsterley, Pontesbury, Westbury and Yockleton became the latest communities where high-speed fibre broadband has ‘gone live’ for the first time as a result of Connecting Shropshire. Around 3,500 premises in these communities are now able to connect to the new fibre network which will deliver download speeds of up to 80 megabits per second and upload speeds of up to 20Mbps*.
The partners also used today’s anniversary to reveal some fascinating facts and figures which further demonstrate the scale of the engineering operation being undertaken.
During the first year since the contract was formally signed engineers working for Openreach, BT’s local network business, have:
- Laid more than 80,000 metres of fibre optic cable;
- Installed more than 180,000 metres of new ducting;
- Sited more than 50 new roadside cabinets;
- Moved more than 120 tonnes of earth;
- And poured around 55 tonnes of concrete, to make faster broadband a reality.
Connecting Shropshire is a partnership between Shropshire Council, BT and the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) that will enable more than 62,000 rural homes and businesses in Shropshire (excluding Telford and Wrekin) to access faster broadband.
Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council cabinet member for broadband, said: “It’s been a big year and getting things up and running was a huge task, however now we’re underway and things are picking up speed it’s clear we’ve come a long way in a year. The next year for the project – and getting fibre to as many people as we can – is the focus for us now.”
Ian Binks, BT’s regional manager for Shropshire and the West Midlands, said: “Today marks another major milestone for the partnership. We’ve achieved so much in the first year, but we’re already focused on the work that needs to be done in the year ahead.
“It’s a huge engineering project, but we’re on course to reach the half-way point around this time next year.”
People will continue to be informed about the progress of the programme via the website www.connectingshropshire.co.uk, Shropshire councillors, parish councils and regular updates in the media.
The combined investment from Connecting Shropshire and the private sector’s commercial roll-out plans means 93 per cent of homes and businesses in the Shropshire Council area will have access to faster fibre broadband by the end of Spring 2016.
Shropshire homes and businesses are able to order fibre broadband from a wide range of internet service providers as the network being installed by Openreach is available to all providers on an open, wholesale basis, thereby ensuring competitive prices. To check whether you can access fibre broadband services contact your internet service provider.
Montford Bridge became the first rural community to be connected as part of Connecting Shropshire in December.
*These are the top wholesale speeds available from Openreach to all service providers; speeds offered by service providers may vary.
Programme moves up a gear during 2014 as work begins in 25 more areas
Work has begun in the next 25 exchange areas to benefit from the £24.6 million Connecting Shropshire programme. On Friday 7th February, partners Shropshire Council and BT today announced more details about the areas where people will be able to start accessing faster fibre broadband over the next 14 months.
The exchange areas are:
- Bayston Hill
- Bomere Heath
- Church Stretton
- Cleehillstone (Clee Hill)
- Cleobury Mortimer
- Craven Arms
- Cross Houses
- Much Wenlock
- Queens Head
- Tenbury Wells
The high-speed technology is expected to start going ‘live’ in Bayston Hill, Bomere Heath, Bucknell, Church Stretton, Craven Arms, Cross Houses, Dorrington, Hadnall, Hanwood, Much Wenlock and Shawbury from this Summer. The other exchange areas will start to go live later in the year and will be shown as ‘future exchanges’ on the Openreach where-and-when pages, see: http://www.superfast-openreach.co.uk/where-and-when/
After several months of planning and surveying work, engineers will begin putting in the fibre optic cable and new roadside cabinets that are needed for people to get access to the new fibre broadband network.
At the same time fibre broadband will be extended in the parts of Bridgnorth, Ludlow, Market Drayton and Oswestry not already covered by any commercial rollout.
Work to connect the remaining exchange areas in this particular phase will begin in the second half of this year, with the majority completed by the end of Spring 2015. By this time more than 30,000 premises are expected to have been provided with access to fibre broadband, marking the half-way point in the Connecting Shropshire programme.
Connecting Shropshire will continue to keep people informed of the progress of the programme in these and other areas via the website www.connectingshropshire.co.uk, Shropshire councillors, parish councils and regular updates in the media.
Connecting Shropshire is a partnership between Shropshire Council, BT and the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) that will enable more than 62,000 rural or very rural homes and businesses in Shropshire (excluding Telford and Wrekin) to access faster broadband.
The combined investment from Connecting Shropshire and the private sector’s commercial roll-out plans will mean 93 per cent of homes and businesses in the Shropshire Council area will have access to faster fibre broadband by the end of Spring 2016.
Shropshire homes and businesses will be able to order fibre broadband from a wide range of internet service providers as the network is available to all providers on an open, wholesale basis, thereby ensuring competitive prices. To check whether you can access fibre broadband services contact your internet service provider.
Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council Cabinet member responsible for broadband, said: “Following on from recent announcements about communities getting fibre broadband ahead of schedule, and further phase one communities due to get fibre broadband by the spring, we are building confidence in the programme as a whole to bring faster broadband to the current and future generations”.
Mike Cook, BT’s regional director for the West Midlands, said: “It’s a huge engineering project that we’re undertaking here in Shropshire, but we’re committed to connecting communities as quickly as possible whilst of course planning carefully to ensure the project delivers the best value for money from the investment.”
“The internet is playing an increasingly important part in all our lives which is why the strong progress being made by Connecting Shropshire is so important.”
Rizvan Khalid, Executive Director of Euro Quality Lambs Ltd based in Craven Arms, said: “Faster fibre broadband gives businesses like ours the ability to use the latest internet-based software to increase both productivity and communications within our business and externally with key suppliers. It can’t come soon enough!”
“Once we have faster broadband we are planning on experimenting with VOIP telephony systems which will help our roaming team stay in touch better, simpler and most importantly, cheaper. Much of our data is backed up online so a faster service means we’re not waiting so much and we can be more productive at our desktops.”
Some of these exchange areas cover premises in neighbouring local authorities. Homes and businesses in each local authority area are the responsibility of the respective broadband programmes in Wales, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Telford, Worcestershire, and Herefordshire (Fastershire). Links to these programmes can be found on the following page of the Connecting Shropshire website in the ‘Bordering Counties broadband information’ section: http://connectingshropshire.co.uk/related-external-links/
Chirk exchange is located in Wales, but Connecting Shropshire has the responsibility for providing access to faster fibre broadband for homes and businesses in the Shropshire Council area.
Fibre broadband coming soon to 18 more Shropshire communities
The next communities to benefit from the £24.6 million Connecting Shropshire fibre broadband partnership were announced today by Shropshire Council and BT.
Alberbury, Aston on Clun, Boningale, Clungunford, Cosford, Cross Lane Head, Halfway House, Little Brampton, Ploxgreen, Pontesford, Purslow, Quatford, Snailbeach, Stoke St. Milborough, Upton Magna, Westbury, Withington and Yockleton will be the next places to get high-speed broadband as part of the programme. Fibre broadband will be coming soon to these areas with people able to order services from Spring 2014.
Last month Montford Bridge became the first rural community to ‘go live’ as part of Connecting Shropshire. The programme is gathering momentum with roadside fibre broadband cabinets going live each week, including in Harlescott, which was announced earlier this month, with Bicton also now ‘live’. Albrighton, Ford, Minsterley and Pontesbury will follow before the end of March. Residents and businesses in these locations will be able to enjoy broadband download speeds of up to 80 megabits per second and uploads of up to 20 Mbps*.
Connecting Shropshire is a partnership between Shropshire Council, BT and the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) that will enable more than 62,000 rural or very rural homes and businesses in Shropshire (excluding Telford and Wrekin) to access faster broadband. The combined investment from Connecting Shropshire and BT’s own commercial programme will mean 93 per cent of homes and businesses in the Shropshire Council area will have access to fibre broadband by the end of Spring 2016.
Shropshire households and businesses are able to order fibre broadband from a wide range of internet service providers as the network is open to all providers on an open, wholesale basis, thereby ensuring competitive prices.
Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council Cabinet member responsible for broadband, said: “It’s great to be able to confirm even more areas as part of the first phase of the programme. For the people and businesses in these rural communities it’ll mean that they will be able to gain access to higher broadband speeds sooner than they thought; in this day and age, it’s becoming ever more important to have fast and reliable broadband to get on in business and in life.”
Mike Cook, BT’s regional director for the West Midlands, said: “The internet is playing an increasingly important part in all our lives which is why the strong progress being made by Connecting Shropshire is so important. Whether it’s small businesses keeping in touch with their customers and suppliers, children doing their homework or playing interactive games online, grandparents staying in touch with their grandchildren, or people working from home. Each of these things is made easier, quicker and better by faster fibre broadband.”
To check whether you can access fibre broadband services contact your internet service provider or go to www.connectingshropshire.co.uk
Note: *These are the top wholesale speeds available from Openreach to all service providers; speeds offered by service providers may vary.