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Microwave link takes superfast broadband to Northumberland village

Thursday, May 5th 2016 by Ellen Branagh

A remote Northumberland village now has access to superfast broadband thanks to an innovative microwave radio link.

Coanwood has become the first community in Northumberland to benefit from the technology, which brings superfast speeds to hard-to-reach areas.

It means all the homes and businesses in the village have access to broadband speeds of up to 80Mbps.

The situation has been made possible by a 5km microwave radio link that ‘beams’ a broadband signal from a specially-built 11m pole close to the nearest telephone exchange to a receiving antenna on a similar pole in Coanwood.

That receiving antenna is then linked to a new roadside fibre cabinet that serves the village.

Openreach project manager Mike Reynolds, who is in charge of the physical rollout of faster broadband in Northumberland, said: “Using microwave radio was the ideal solution for Coanwood.

“We were determined to find a way to make superfast fibre available to the village, however the cost of laying 5km of new duct and fibre was prohibitive and the necessary roadworks would have caused significant disruption.

“We still had to overcome other technical challenges including the need for a specialist rock hammer drill to dig down deeper than usual as we needed to erect 11m high poles.

“We also needed temporary ground matting for our specialist vehicle, used to erect the radio dishes, to overcome the effects of ground water saturation caused by Storm Desmond.”

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

“For people using broadband in the village, it will be exactly the same as if they were connected up using fibre optic cables in the ground.

'Pushing the boundaries'

“The increase in speed and subsequent benefits are exactly the same.

“Customers’ premises are connected up to the fibre cabinet in the usual way so there is no need for any special equipment in the home.”

The innovative scheme is part of the iNorthumberland programme, a partnership between BT and Northumberland County Council.

Councillor Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “This innovation illustrates our commitment to pushing the boundaries of how far we can deploy high-speed broadband and ensuring that the economic and social benefits that modern digital communications will help deliver are accessible to everyone, no matter how remote or rural their location.

“By proving the value of this new technology, we hope that it will be used in other appropriate locations in the future.”

Simon Roberson, BT’s regional partnership director for the North East, added: “This is a great example of how the iNorthumberland programme is bringing superfast broadband to communities who otherwise would not be getting it.

“Northumberland’s large size, diverse geography and largely rural population present considerable challenges to rolling out high speed broadband.

“But innovations like this will help to ensure we achieve our goal to increase fibre broadband coverage in the county to 95% of premises by 2017.”

Pictured are BT North East regional partnership director Simon Roberson, Openreach engineer Craig Buck and John Cooper, Nathan Fuller and Sylvia Pringle from iNorthumberland.

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