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Rural broadband coverage needs multiple solutions - BDUK chief

Monday, November 17th 2014 by Hannah Langston

The head of the government's superfast broadband rollout has said that a "mixture of technologies" is required to extend coverage in rural areas.

Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) chief executive Chris Townsend told Cable.co.uk there is not one solution for bringing superfast broadband to some of the most remote parts of the UK.

"It includes fibre, it includes wi-fi and it also includes particularly satellite in the very outer reaches of the Scottish highlands where fibre and wi-fi solutions can't solve the problem," he said.

"And it’s not just simply finding ways of making the technologies work it’s the operational delivery the scalability and also the financial models behind it.

"It has to work financially for us to be able to roll it out."

The government has invested £10m in eight projects to determine technologies, financial models and operational processes that will help bring superfast broadband to the final 5% of the country not included in its current rollout.

Mr Townsend revealed that six pilot projects have passed the initial stage which required them to submit feasibility studies to the government. Two other projects remain under further development.

“Within those six going through to the next stage there are very interesting technologies,” he said.

“They are particularly technologies that we can deploy on a significant scale so not just limited to one or two small rural areas.

“There’s something we can deploy on a large scale and can have a significant impact within the 5% and there are definitely some options within that that are scalable which is really exciting."

However, Mr Townsend said he’s not “just relying” on those projects to achieve beyond 95% coverage.

“We’re going to continue working with BT, Virgin Media, UK Broadband, Cityfibre, Gigaclear, all the major players within the marketplace. We’re going to continue working with them to find solutions for the last 5%.

“We’re working very closely with INCA and their members to look at smart ways to deploy technologies across the 5%, so it’s not just the pilot projects, there’s a lot more than that,” he said.

He confirmed the government would be publishing a paper in early 2015 that will “lay out our view of how we can potentially roll-out [broadband] across the last 5%”.

“So the work we’re doing at the moment, the pilot projects, the discussions we’re having with Virgin, UK Broadband etc, all these discussions are helping us put a paper together which we’re planning to complete in the early part of 2015,” he added.

When asked if he believed the UK could achieve universal superfast broadband coverage he replied: "I certainly believe there’s a good chance of getting beyond 98%. How far beyond 98% we can get we’re not sure yet".

The pilot projects are testing technologies including wireless (supplied by companies AB Internet, Airwave and Quickline) satellite (from Avanti and Satellite Internet) and a mixture of fibre and fixed wireless broadband from Call Flow.

Community owned fibre-to-the-home network Cybermoor is trialling a social investment model and wireless internet provider MLL Telecom is testing a new wholesale platform for aggregating rural networks.

The government has set a target of bringing superfast broadband (speeds of 24Mbps and above) to 90% of the UK by 2016.

Its superfast extension programme will extend coverage to 95% by the end of the following year.

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