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Bristol using 70s infrastructure to roll out fibre broadband cheaply

Monday, September 28th 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Bristol is a “shining example” of a city using existing infrastructure to improve its broadband networks, according to the head of Connecting Bristol.

Stephen Hilton told the Transform Digital conference, held in Bristol earlier this month, that a network of ducts built in the 1970s had allowed the city council to roll out fibre broadband at a “modest cost”.

The ducts were installed by broadcast company Rediffusion and used to deliver the community TV station Bristol Channel between 1973 and 1975.

Stretching hundreds of miles underneath the city, the ducts were bought by Bristol City Council 15 years ago with a business case based on “providing internet access to the council and schools”, said Mr Hilton.

“We’ve refurbished those ducts, we’ve used them to provide internet services for ourselves, to roll out traffic information systems, to connect up our buildings,” he told the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA) event.

“But through the Superconnected Cities programme we have also created Bristol Is Open as a joint company with the University of Bristol.”

Bristol Is Open aims to build a citywide network that allows its users to create a shared operating system.

Using the ducts, key locations in the city centre have been connected to a fibre broadband network. These include science centre @Bristol (pictured), the University of Bristol’s high performance computing centre and arts charity the Knowle West Media Centre.


A wireless mesh network, which uses radio nodes, is built on the back of the core network and covers 98% of the city.

Its aim is to encourage innovation among businesses and “drive the growth of those high-tech sectors that we know are so important to Bristol”, said Mr Hilton.

The mesh network will not be used to provide commercial broadband for residential and business customers – but the ducts will.

“Over the last year we have also gone to the market to ask what value those ducts have commercially for providers who want to deliver broadband services to customers in Bristol,” said Mr Hilton.

“Because of the complexities of state aid we’ve delivered this as a concession so we are about to announce a partner who will deliver a concession for us for 20 years using the duct infrastructure in order to provide broadband to businesses in Bristol.

“It’s a shining example of a local authority maximising the use of its assets. I can’t be specific but the mayor of Bristol is delighted that the concession will generate significant amounts of guaranteed revenue for Bristol City Council from spare capacity in the ducts.”

The concession will be formally announced at a Bristol City Council cabinet meeting on 6 October.

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