Devon & Somerset Turn To Wireless To Bring Superfast Broadband To National Parks

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Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) gives BDUK funding to Airband to provide wireless superfast broadband to homes and businesses in Dartmoor and Exmoor

Wireless broadband provider Airband will bring superfast speeds to 5,800 homes and businesses across the Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks after winning £4.6 million worth of public money from the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK)-funded Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) initiative.

The project runs parallel with the ongoing ‘phase 1’ rollout of fibre in the two counties by BT, which will ensure 90 percent of all properties are connected by the end of 2016 in what is England’s largest BDUK deployment. So far, CDS has connected 600 cabinets and 170,000 properties to the Openreach fibre network.

Airband was chosen by CDS for its “innovative” wireless approach that eliminates the need to dig up streets and lay physical infrastructure and is more suited to cover the difficult terrain of the national parks.

Wireless broadband

exmoor national park 2Radios attached to buildings receive a signal from a transmitter, which is sent inside to a modem, so users can connect to the network as though they were using a fixed network.

Local leaders say the development will allow businesses to grow and residents to work flexibly.

“We recognise how important broadband connectivity is to Dartmoor communities – it is an essential service to help people, work, live, learn and play,” said Peter Harper, Chairman of Dartmoor National Park. “We are pleased that this new phase of the programme will deliver superfast broadband to some of our most hard to reach homes and businesses.”

“Our extensive knowledge of deploying services in the Welsh hills has given us experience and insight into dealing with the geographical challenges that we will come across in the National Parks and our use of a high proportion of existing structures and buildings to build a robust network will reduce planning issues and time lags for delivery,” added Redmond Peel, managing director of Airband.

“Our solution uses state of the art data radio technology with radios capable of up to 100Mbps in place of fibre, ensuring high speed connection where fibre is not available.”

Not BT

CDS hopes the latest project will help it achieve 95 percent coverage by 2017 and follows a decision last week not to grant BT more BDUK funding for ‘phase 2’ because a “value for money” deal could not be reached.

“This is a huge disappointment for us,” said David Hall, councillor at Somerset County Council. “BT has let the County Councils down, they have also let the Connecting Devon and Somerset Partnership down, and worst of all they have let residents, communities and businesses in Somerset and Devon down.

“We have a duty to seek best value for all our residents and their tender for the next phase of the programme was just not up to scratch.”

BT said it believed it had made a good offer to extend coverage in the region

“We are disappointed that we have not yet been able to reach agreement on the next phase of the Connecting Devon and Somerset programme,” company spokesperson told TechWeekEurope. “We believe we have made the best possible offer to take superfast broadband coverage beyond the current target of around 90 per cent by the end of next year, taking into account the challenging and remote nature of some locations in the two counties.

“Our offer would mean that an additional 34,400 households and businesses in the two counties would have access to superfast broadband by the middle of 2020. A huge engineering operation, would be required, including the laying of thousands of kilometres of fibre optic cable and the installation of over 1000 fibre broadband cabinets and other structures. It is estimated that it would take more than 15 years for BT to get a return on its investment.

“Our work with superfast broadband partnerships around the country has shown that when we make a commitment we stick to it and we have successfully agreed extension contracts with dozens of partnerships. We would very much welcome working with Connecting Devon and Somerset and making another substantial investment to further extend superfast broadband coverage, but of course any agreement has to be based on what can realistically be achieved. We will continue to work to try to find a solution.”

The tender will now be reissued as on open procurement, rather than through the national BDUK framework.

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