B4RN Volunteers Begin Build of 1Gbps FTTH Broadband in Norfolk UK
The recently formed B4RN East Anglia (B4RNorfolk) ISP has this week gathered together a group of volunteers to mark the official start of construction on a new community built and funded 1Gbps Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband network for rural Norfolk and Suffolk (England). Hopefully by now most of you should already be familiar with the impressive achievements of the long-running B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) project, which until recently had focused upon deploying their 1000Mbps+ capable network to some of the most isolated rural homes in Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. The project, which encourages local volunteers to muck in and help build their own network (usually in exchange for shares instead of cash), has been a wonderful success story and one that at the last count had connected 3,800+ live properties in some of England’s most isolated communities.
It’s no exaggeration to say that B4RN has turned the more traditional commercial model of fibre optic network building on its head and going forward they expect to reach around 5,000 connections by summer 2018. All profits go back into the community and also help to build/manage their network. The downside is that this approach only really works best with “soft digs” (e.g. building over farm land rather than through urban streets).
However the team have long aspired to expand beyond their current area and in July 2017 they soft launched a new division to do just that – B4RN East Anglia (details here). The good news is that on a cold and snowy Sunday the first volunteers gathered together in order to celebrate their “Day of the Spades” event, which marks the official start of civil engineering work in the area.
Apparently the first community likely to benefit from this will be large village of Scole in Norfolk (on the border with Suffolk), which is home to around 1,400 people and already appears to be at least partly covered by a slower ‘up to’ 80Mbps hybrid fibre (FTTC) broadband network from Openreach (BT).
Michael Davey, B4RN East Anglia Regional Director, said: “The exciting news is that as of today we have started construction of the East Anglian fibre route, and the first to be connected will be Scole Community Centre and a few properties en-route from Billingford. B4RN was created entirely from the needs of the community, from people coming together and saying enough is enough, we’ve got to do something about rural broadband.
B4RN East Anglia was what the community set up to deliver it for this region.”
David Evans, B4RN East Anglia Regional Director, said: “The reason B4RN works is that the communities and farmers work together. Over 130 villages in this region have expressed an interest in implementing a B4RN project.
We are now concentrating on getting the network live in Scole Community Centre so that people can come and experience the hyperfast speeds for themselves. In September, we opened funding pots for Thelveton, Shimpling and Gissing villages. These villages are now racing to be the first to meet their funding target and start their own build-outs.
We’ve also opened a general funding pot for those that want to support the initiative.”
Expanding into a completely different part of the country is of course no easy task (the new coverage is not contiguous with their existing footprint in the North West of England) and the operator is understood to have leased some Dark Fibre from Zayo – running from Telehouse North out to Lowestoft – and they will be lighting the fibre with 40 channel Dense Wavelength-Division Multiplexing (DWDM) in the same way as their Manchester to Edinburgh route. Peering with LONAP may also have a role to play. As usual customers will pay just GBP30 per month for a 1000Mbps (symmetrical) unlimited service and there’s also a one-off connection fee of GBP150 with a 1 month rolling contract, which is absurdly cheap when you consider that it’s a gold standard “full fibre” network.
Further down the line we expect that some parishes in Essex may also benefit.
Of course none of this would be possible without all those excellent volunteers and a new video has been posted (below) to show what’s been happening.
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