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Openreach: Winter won't hold up Scotland's fibre broadband rollout

Wednesday, December 23rd 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Snowshoes, salt and shovels are among the toolkit for broadband engineers in Scotland this winter.

While the nation gets ready for Chrismas, bosses behind the superfast broadband rollout in Scotland have been making their own plans in a bid to stop winter weather slowing down the rollout.

More than 485,000 homes and businesses have so far been enabled for fibre broadband as part of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme.

But many rural areas – some of which are very remote – are yet to get fibre access so project bosses have to plan the continued rollout regardless of winter weather.

Openreach senior project manager Ross Milne said the Digital Scotland programme, now in its third winter, has been lucky so far as the past two years have been relatively mild.

“But there is no way of knowing what this winter will be like, so we are prepared to deal with the worst the weather can throw at us,” he said.

“As the programme is bringing high speed fibre broadband to rural areas, some of which are very remote, our engineers need to travel on country lanes, which are the least likely to be cleared in the case of snow and ice.”

Citing bad weather conditions five years ago where huge snow falls left many vehicles snowed in, he said it would happen again so they have “extensive plans” in place to deal with potential wintry conditions.

“Health and Safety is paramount,” said Mr Milne.

“All our vans are equipped with snowshoes, salt and shovels and our engineers always assess the risk before travelling on any road that may be dangerous.”

Particular engineering challenges in winter include longer setting times for concrete in cold weather, a problem that can be mitigated by the use of sections of pre-set concrete.

'Ahead of the game'

It is also difficult to carry out excavation work such as clearing blockages and digging up roads to lay new ducts, he said.

“We have to carefully consider the impact of traffic management when roads may be dangerous.

“So we try to lay fibre cabling before the worst of the weather arrives.

“This means we get ahead of the game and we can focus on work during the winter that is less vulnerable to weather conditions, such as re-arranging copper wires.”

Mr Milne said forward planning means disruption to the schedule can be kept to a minimum, adding that in his whole career there is only one week he can remember when work had to completely stop due to bad weather.

“So we are facing this winter confident that we will keep the fibre roll out on target and take any challenges in our stride,” he added.

Last month, Cable.co.uk reported that a series of historic causeways built in the Second World War were helping take fibre broadband to a number of Orkney Islands communities.

The Churchill Barriers, built on the orders of Winston Churchill after the sinking of HMS Royal Oak by a German U-boat in 1939, are being used to run network cables to help the rollout of superfast broadband.

The barriers, which join the Orkney mainland to Lamb Holm, Glims Holm, Burray and S Ronaldsay, were built to block the channels between the islands and protect the fleet at Scapa Flow.

Work was completed on them four days after VE Day in May 1945.

The causeways have served as vital road links ever since and are now playing a role in helping the rollout of fibre broadband to the Orkney Islands.

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