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Engineers overcome canal challenge to continue broadband rollout

Friday, January 8th 2016 by Ellen Branagh

An innovative microwave link has helped get superfast broadband to a Gloucestershire village.

Engineers from the Fastershire project, a partnership between Gloucestershire County Council and Herefordshire Council to bring faster broadband to the two counties, came up with the solution as an alternative to laying fibre cable under a 200-year-old canal.

The Gloucester and Sharpness Canal – once the broadest and deepest in the world – was a potential obstacle to the rollout of fibre broadband to the village of Longney.

But instead of a costly effort to lay fibre optic cable underneath the waterway, engineers chose to use a 1km microwave radio link between Hardwicke and Longney.

The link uses microwave ‘point-to-point’ technology between two specially built 12-metre high wooden poles, just over 1km apart.

A radio unit – comprising a transmitter dish the size of a football – is mounted on the top of each structure.

A broadband signal is beamed from one antenna to another across the canal using radio waves and is then relayed to a new roadside fibre cabinet in Longney village via an underground fibre optic cable.

The unit on the other pole is connected to the main network via an underground fibre optic cable to Hardwicke telephone exchange.

Matthew Lloyd, BT’s programme manager for Fastershire, said the wireless radio technology means villagers can access broadband at the same speeds as if they’d been connected to the fibre network via underground cables.

“Given the canal is more than five metres deep and, at around 26 metres wide, still one of the broadest in the UK, digging under it to lay new ducting and fibre optic cables would have been extremely time-consuming and costly.

“But we were determined not to let what used to be the world’s widest and deepest canal stand in the way of us enabling local households and businesses from getting better connected to the world wide web.”

'Particularly challenging'

He said the microwave link uses a dedicated radio spectrum so there is “no possibility” of the signal being lost or interfered with.

“The job proved particularly challenging because we were unable to get the clear radio line of sight all the way to the village,” Mr Lloyd added.

“This meant we had to use a combination of a shorter radio link and two sections of optical fibre to make the connection.

“Another challenge was getting electricity to the radio units. Due to their position, we had to build a stand-alone cabinet at a different location to power them.

“We believe it’s the first time this has been done as part of any broadband roll-out programme.”

The innovative approach means homes and businesses in Longney have access to download speeds of up to 80Mbps and upload speeds up to 20Mbps.

More than 7,400 households and businesses in the Hardwicke area are now able to access faster fibre broadband as a result of Fastershire or BT’s commercial rollout.

Neil Carmichael, MP for Stroud, said: “I am delighted at the completion of this innovative solution to deliver fibre broadband to Longney.

“There are challenges in rolling out broadband to several parts of the Stroud Valleys and Vale and I look forward to BT continuing to overcome difficulties to deliver faster broadband for all my constituents.”

Phase 1 of the Fastershire project, in partnership with BT, will see around 90% Gloucestershire get access to fibre broadband, with all homes and businesses in the area getting basic broadband at a minimum of 2Mbps.

Phase 2 of the project will extend fibre coverage further across the county, including a contract with Gigaclear that is taking ultrafast speeds to more 6,500 of the most difficult to reach rural homes and businesses.

It is hoped that by the end of 2018 everyone in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire will be able to access the broadband services they need.

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