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Details emerge on Bournemouth fibre scheme

H2O Networks' sewer-based deployment is the UK's largest fibre scheme and will bring next-gen connectivity to the town, the company says
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor

H2O Networks has released more details on its upcoming fibre-to-the-home deployment in Bournemouth, the largest such project currently planned in the UK.

Over 500km of fibre is to be laid throughout the seaside resort, connecting every home and business in the town with a 100Mbps symmetric internet connection.

The project, detailed by telecoms operator H20 on Wednesday, will bring a massive boost to the area's broadband speeds. Eighty-eight thousand homes and businesses will be offered a fibre-optic connection during one of five installation phases between March 2009 and March 2011.

"We think this is a great opportunity for the town," said councillor Nick King, cabinet member for communications at Bournemouth Borough Council. "We have enormous internet usage and there are a lot of uses for the technology."

King said he believed the speed would help deliver a host of new applications and bolster existing services. "Social services are keen to use the speed for videoconferencing, to communicate with those who are vulnerable," he said. Other applications will include traffic-management systems and CCTV, King added.

Elfed Thomas, chief executive of H20 Networks, said: "Many broadband customers in the UK have insufficient connectivity bandwidths because they are attached to legacy networks. This is the start of bringing next-generation connectivity to the UK."

The project is unusual not only for its size but also because most of the fibre is being run through the town's sewers. This enables fibre to be deployed much more quickly and at a much lower cost than by digging up the road. A mile of the cable, which is specially protected against sewer rats, can be laid in as little as four hours and at a cost of £3.50 per metre.

The fibre will be laid along the bottom of each sewer, in amongst the effluent. Electronic equipment is to be installed at street level. Businesses will be offered multiple fibres to the premises, either for internet connectivity or for LAN-to-LAN links. H20 has suggested that such links could potentially be deployed in as little as a week.

Pricing is yet to be revealed. H20 said it won't sell directly to homes and businesses but will provide wholesale access through ISPs. BT won't be one of those ISPs, Thomas said, "because it has its own problems". He did not specify what problems he was referring to.

H20 said it will sell the bandwidth on a 10-year contract per fibre line, rather than the traditional method of charging per megabit.

Ofcom has recently become more supportive of fibre-to-the-home projects. In April, the telecoms regulator launched a review into the most financially viable ways of boosting the country's broadband speeds. The review marks a fundamental shift in Ofcom's attitude since last year, when it seemed indifferent to the idea. "They were obviously sceptical, along with the rest of the market," said Thomas. "But they are seeing that we are making this viable. To some point, they are endorsing what we are doing."

H20 has raised £100m from venture capitalists to roll out further sewer-based fibre networks in the UK. "We are looking at other cities. We intend to have three or four over the next few years," said Thomas. He suggested these projects would mainly be in medium-sized towns and cities. H20 already has sewer-access agreements with Anglian Water, Scottish Water and Yorkshire Water, as well as Bournemouth supplier Wessex Water.

The Bournemouth project, which is based on a GPON (gigabit passive optical networking) architecture, is expected to cost £30m. It is the largest of H20's networks by far. The telecoms carrier has been trialling the technology with smaller implementations at the universities of Napier, Dundee and Aberdeen in Scotland.

One other company is also laying fibre through the sewers. Geo, a telecoms carrier which bought assets from Urband, a venture part-owned by Thames Water, currently has 80km of fibre running through London's sewers. It sells services purely to businesses.

BT Openreach is busy preparing a street-level fibre-to-the-home project in Ebbsfleet, Kent, with which it hopes to connect 9,500 homes and businesses.

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