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Five ways we're rising to the rural broadband challenge

27 May 2021

We know the importance of rural connectivity. It’s considered vital by many rural communities and businesses. And our enforced isolation during the pandemic has only sharpened that perspective

We also know that when it comes to rural broadband, people expect more from Openreach.

Of course, we’re a commercial business and there are other companies building broadband networks – but we take that responsibility seriously. And we have a strong track record of investing more than any other company into rural broadband upgrades.

Here at Openreach, we’re always up for the challenge of taking our network further and faster – and below are just a few of the ways we’re working to tackle the digital divide.

But, of course, this doesn’t mean we can do it all.

Rural connectivity is something governments and the whole industry need to tackle collectively. And the reality is that some homes might always be too expensive and complex to reach with the best fixed broadband technologies – so we have to keep innovating and exploring models which can deliver the best-connected future for the countryside.

 

1.    Going further than anyone else

We’ve already built Full Fibre technology to around 4.6 million premises – from the Outer Hebrides to the Isles of Scilly – and that includes hundreds of market towns and villages.

It’s all part of a target to reach 25 million homes and businesses by the end of 2026.

Our commitment to rural Britain is the largest of any network builder in the country. We’ll be upgrading around six million premises in the hardest to reach third of the country and we’re in a hurry to make this a reality.

Right now, our engineers are upgrading 43,000 homes and businesses every week and we’ll be ramping that up to 75,000 a week – that’s 1,500 premises every hour!

 

2.    Using innovation

One of the great things about Openreach is having a crack team of telecoms experts – our Chief Engineers. They’re the best of the best, and they’re constantly scouring the globe for new technologies, tools and techniques which will help us go further, especially in rural areas.

They’re armed with an array of clever kit like the Cleanfast machine, which can lay up to 1km of fibre cable in a single day (compared to just 20m using traditional methods). They’re also using drones to fly fibre across rivers and valleys, and ground penetrating radar to guide our diggers.


3.    Co-funding with communities

If your home or business has been left out of plans by the private sector, or you can’t wait for subsidised projects to reach you, our Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) scheme could be the answer.

So far, we’ve upgraded more than 165,000 homes - working directly with over 1,800 communities to find a funding model and create a bespoke solution that suits them. Find out more about Community Fibre Partnerships.

Whether it’s the UK Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme; The Scottish Broad and Voucher Scheme; or the Access Broadband Cymru scheme – there are substantial pots of money out there for rural families and businesses looking to get faster, more reliable connectivity.

We’ve set up an Openreach team to help people navigate the various options and draw down the maximum possible funding for their community. All we need to do then is get building!


4.    Partnering with governments

The UK Government’s Building Digital UK scheme (BDUK) has been going since 2013, and so far, it’s helped to extend superfast broadband services to more than five million premises. These are homes that wouldn’t have been reached by private investment and we’ve played a huge part in that programme.

As a result, more than 96% of the UK can order superfast services today, and the build hasn’t stopped.

In Wales for example, we’ve helped build superfast broadband to more than 95% of the country (some 1.5m premises) – and now we’re working with the Welsh Government to go even further – with ultrafast Full Fibre being built to tackle areas in the final 5%.

Meanwhile we’re helping the Scottish Government deliver its R100 scheme to connect every home and business in Scotland with high speed broadband. That includes a huge programme of laying subsea cables to connect up 15 of the country’s most remote island communities.


5.    Helping other builders

Whilst we’re out there building full fibre further and faster than anyone, since 2011 we’ve also been helping others to build their own networks by giving them access to our network of 4.9m poles and underground ducts.

Allowing others to use our infrastructure helps builders slash the upfront costs of laying fibre cables. It also reduces the time required for digging works – enabling fibre to be installed in some streets in a matter of hours, where it would have taken days. We’re only going to be able to upgrade the whole of the UK by working together as an industry, so we’ve worked hard to make our infrastructure even easier to access and use.

So far, more than 120 companies have earmarked over 26,000 kilometres of our underground network and close to 200,000 poles to deploy their own fibre, and we’re very much open for more business.

Visit our fibre checker to find out when Full Fibre is coming to you

 

Kim Mears
MD Strategic Infrastructure Delivery