Ultrafast broadband is coming to the Shaftesbury area. Openreach is rolling out full fibre to 27 ‘hard to reach’ market towns and villages across the Southwest, and a Shaftesbury IT expert says some villagers should enjoy a better online experience.
“The hard to reach areas – that’s places like Motcombe and The Donheads – these are the places they are looking to roll it out to,” explained the owner of Adamant IT when he read the Openreach announcement.
Graham Lord has run his Shaftesbury High Street computer support and IT business since 2009 and he says many of the internet speed complaints he receives come from one North Dorset village. “Now and again, I’ll have somebody come in and tell me that their broadband is terrible. I ask which area they are living in. It’s always Motcombe,” said Graham.
He explained that the slow rural internet speed is because trenches had to be sunk for the broadband cables. “Some of these areas may only have a single road going to the village. If you have to close the road for a month while you dig it up and lay a cable down it, you can’t do that. You can’t plough through the countryside either because it is protected. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so difficult to get high-speed broadband in these rural villages,” explained Graham.
Openreach’s engineers have pioneered new tools and techniques to add full-fibre coverage to areas previously considered too complex or expensive to upgrade. “It’s essentially a new cable-laying machine that allows them to dig a very narrow line down the road. It digs up the road and lays the cable in a single movement. They can run almost one kilometre of fibre each day. They can have a cable done and dusted in probably a week or so, compared to taking months to dig up a road.”
Graham says there are three types of broadband available now. “There’s the conventional broadband, that we’ve had for decades now. It was known as ADSL. That was the old style of up to 8Mb per second. Over the past five years we’ve seen the roll-out of high-speed fibreoptic broadband. That’s the bit we are talking about. It comes in two flavours. There’s ‘fibre to the cabinet’ and ‘fibre to the premises’. ‘Fibre to the cabinet’ means they run a fibreoptic cable up to the green BT cabinet that you often find at the end of the street,” said Graham.
He explained that the maximum technical speed won’t be achieved if there are poor quality old cables linking your home or business to that cabinet in the street, but most subscribers won’t notice. “’Fibre to the premises’ means the cable goes all the way up to your actual house. Most of BT’s fibreoptic broadband services are ‘fibre to the cabinet’ and that gives you very high-speed broadband of up to 100 Mb per second. It is perfectly fine for the vast majority of people,” said Graham. “In cities like London, where Virgin have a presence, they offer a higher speed because they are offering ‘fibre to the premises’. In the vast majority of cases, you don’t need that level of speed.”
Graham says it’s unlikely that the villages surrounding Shaftesbury will have fibre connected to their premises. “But even just getting ‘fibre to the cabinet’ would be a colossal improvement for these rural areas that are struggling to watch YouTube out there. ‘Fibre to the cabinet’ will be a complete game-changer for them.”
Graham compared the improved connection to a garden hose. “The old-style broadband that I was referring to, if that was a hosepipe going all the way to the end of the garden, you’re going to run out of pressure at the end of the garden. Fibreoptic is having an interstate oil pipeline into your village. By comparison, fibre massively changes the amount of speed you can get,” he said.
The local hills often mean that rural residents struggle to achieve a decent internet connection on their mobiles, too. Graham has estimated the type of speed improvement users might expect. “People in the rural villages are probably going to go from 5Mbps to 70Mbps. The speed increases so much it’ll clear most of those problems entirely.”
That means that people in Motcombe, The Donheads and Shaftesbury’s outlying districts should be able to watch BBC iPlayer without the programmes stopping and starting. And residents should also be able to make Skype calls without the picture breaking up.
Graham doubts that most internet users in Shaftesbury town will notice much of a difference if they upgrade their internet contracts for the faster speeds, when they are available. “Most of Shaftesbury already has ‘fibre to the cabinet’. That means we’ve got pretty much decent broadband in all of Shaftesbury now. Shaftesbury is pretty accessible. Were only just off the A303 which means it was easy to get Shaftesbury going, except for some of the spider network roads off the hill. For smaller villages in and around Shaftesbury, along what is almost a farm track, it is a different animal.”
Often improvements come with an increased cost for the consumer. But Graham doesn’t expect bills to rise substantially. “With BT, I think the prices will be fairly agreeable. BT wants to get people on fibreoptic broadband,” he said. “It is in their interest to do that because then they can decommission all the old equipment and get rid of it. I would only expect it to be £5 or £10 a month more expensive. For the amount of additional speed you are getting, that will be worth every penny.”
Openreach says that the upgrade works across all parts of the West will commence within the next 14 months. Nationally, they plan to reach 4 million homes and businesses with full-fibre technology by the end of March 2021.