A tiny village outside Bath has become the first in the country to have high speed fibre broadband installed from scratch.
The village of Claverton has just 70 houses and no broadband infrastructure, so it was not on the list for broadband access, despite being in a valley just a few miles outside Bath and almost next door to the city’s world class university. One of the reasons for this is the financial modelling used by infrastructure provider Openreach, which assumes a 20% takeup of services. The cost of installing fibre across 4km to reach the village for just a few houses was uneconomic.
The residents of the village didn’t take no for an answer, and as this included several technology and telecoms executives and lecturers from the nearby University of Bath they investigated many different options over the last few years, including a mesh network over the hill to a connection point. Two years ago they started negotiations with Openreach, and part of this was to change the financial model. To do this, the village has partly funded the installation. All the houses in the village were part of the scheme, on the basis of paying what they could afford. Several home-based businesses contributed more, but access was not dependent on the contributions. Instead, this demonstrated to Openreach and service provider BT that the demand for the service was much higher than the expected 20% and as a result reduced the amount the village contributed. However, there was a clear argument that having high speed fibre broadband increased the value of their homes, and so far the uptake is 40% and rising.
Twelve fibres were installed on the aerial route alongside the copper phone cable, connecting to a new box in the village with Huawei’s termination equipment. Just one fibre is lit for broadband, and as this is shared between just 70 homes rather than the usual 200 to 300 there will not be a problem with contention. This also leaves the village well placed for the next generation G.fast rollout of speeds of 400 to 500Mbit/s in 2016 and 2017.
“We realised the high costs involved meant Claverton would not be upgraded as part of BT’s normal commercial fibre broadband roll-out for some time, so we set about working with the company to jointly solve the problem,” said Dr Rodger Sykes, chairman of software startup Thalia. “It has been hard work over three years to get to where we are today both for the residents of Claverton and the BT people involved, but we have worked together very well. Claverton residents really appreciate the benefits superfast broadband can bring and are excited at the thought that this project provides everyone in the community with the kind of speeds we could only dream about having in the past. It is significant that almost every Claverton household has made a contribution to the village’s superfast broadband fund. Because of the distance the village is from the local telephone exchange and a roadside cabinet, most residents were previously getting download speeds of less than 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps), but now our internet experience has been transformed.”
BT also invested in the project alongside Openreach. “The people of Claverton are true national trail-blazers and are setting the pace for rural communities through their collaboration with BT,” said Bill Murphy, managing director of next generation access for BT, who was at the village for the launch of the service “Elsewhere, we’re working in partnership with local authorities and communities to make high-speed broadband available in the more challenging areas of the UK. There are many examples of us doing so, but this is the first village to work with us on creating an entirely new broadband network for the local community. Given the focus on delivering superfast broadband in this region, it is no wonder the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Wellbeing report last year listed the South West as best UK region for household broadband access.”
A very interesting interview with Paul Oldham, Bristol-based regional director of the Business Growth Fund which is funded by the high street banks but independently run.
Some of its key investments have been in tech in the South West such as Corsham-based cloud IT services provider Skyscape (£4 million) and microwave smart antenna designer Sub 10 Systems (£2.5 million) in Newton Abbot. Although Sub 10 merged with Californian Fastback Networks in March this year, the fund has kept its investment in the combined venture. The new HQ will be in California and the Sub 10 site will be the new European headquarters.