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Fibre broadband rollout using Bristol's underground ducts gets underway

Monday, November 16th 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Plans to use a network of ducts underneath Bristol to provide a high-speed broadband network to the city are underway.

A contract signed last week will see internet providers ITS Technology Group and Net Support UK use a network of ducts built in the 1970s to provide fibre services to businesses around the city.

In a joint venture dubbed BNET Ultra Ltd, ITS and Net Support will manage and maintain The Bristol Network, which is made up of around 76km of duct.

The ducts, which were used to deliver the community TV station Bristol Channel between 1973 and 1975, were bought by the city council 15 years ago with the aim of providing internet access to the council and schools.

They have now been refurbished and used to connect key locations in the city centre to a fibre broadband network.

David Cullen, director of strategy at ITS, said the use of existing ducting to lay fibre-optic cable underneath the city significantly reduces the cost and speeds up the rollout of 21st century infrastructure.

“This is because nearly two-thirds of the build costs of these networks is in the civil construction component, such as the ducts, chambers and masts, which also takes at least half the total time for the build as well," he told Cable.co.uk.

“The initiative can easily be adopted by other cities or regions; as wherever physical assets currently exist, whether they be ducts for CCTV, traffic control, along railway lines or roads etc, there is an opportunity to do the same.”


On top of the 76km of duct underneath the city, a further 60km of as-yet unused duct could yet be refurbished by the joint venture, extending the network to more than 180km.

Stephen Hilton, director of futures at Bristol City Council, said: “Bristol City Council had the foresight to buy the network of ducting from a cable TV operator more than 15 years ago.

“Now, after a programme of upgrades and maintenance, we have created a robust, symmetrical, high capacity network.

“It is the duct element of this asset that has allowed for the 20-year concession agreement which will deliver in a number of areas."

The project will benefit people in Bristol by generating revenue which in turn will deliver better council services across the city, while the increased availability of high-speed broadband will benefit small and start-up businesses, he said.

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