Update from the fibre front line

As our roll-out continues we thought it was high time to introduce the Fibre Guy responsible for delivering our network, Dan Hague.

  • Hi Dan what’s your role within the Connecting Cheshire project?

As the Senior Project Manager, I lead the BT Openreach deployment team, to deliver the fibre network for the Connecting Cheshire programme.

  • Where’s the project up to now?

We have already delivered our fibre network to over 30,000 premises across Cheshire. Taking superfast fibre to the rural areas of Cheshire is a significant engineering challenge and we are making great progress.

  • Tell us about some of the challenges you face on a day to day basis?

We always attempt to use existing underground ducting for the installation of new fibre cables. However we frequently find that these ducts are blocked or damaged, particularly in the very rural areas of Cheshire, where these ducts may not have been accessed for decades. In some cases the blockages are caused by mud or silt, which can be extracted using a desilting machine; but to clear the worst blockages we have to dig into ducts from the roadside. To do this we have to gain permission from the highways authority, and in most cases arrange traffic management (e.g. traffic lights) to ensure the safety of the public, and our engineers. In some digs, we may also need to gain permission from other utilities e.g. if there is gas or electric near to the location of the dig, to enable us to dig safely. When we are unable to clear blockages in the existing duct, we may need to lay significant lengths of new duct. The engineering challenges are not just with taking fibre to the new areas, we are also installing over 450 new cabinets that contain the electronics that provide fibre broadband, and in some locations, we may need permission from landowners too. These new cabinets also require power for the electronics which often require significant digs to connect to the power network; which in turn requires coordination with the power companies and highways authority in order to complete the connections.

  • Can you not just get more resources to help?

Resource is an important factor but civil engineering projects of this scale require certain procedures to be followed to ensure safety and quality. These procedures have a timeline associated with them, for example setting up traffic lights and gaining permissions to dig in the carriageway, so additional resource is not always the answer to these types of issues. The people required to deliver these programmes are highly skilled so it is important that we deploy the right resources to ensure safety and the optimum network performance.

  • Did you not foresee these problems in your plan?

The plan we are working to accounts for the challenges of delivering the fibre network across the rural areas of Cheshire, but we do regularly face unforeseen issues such as blocked ducts and problems with nearby power and gas supplies, all of which can add significant time to our roll-out.

  • Are you happy with your progress to deliver to 96% fibre coverage by summer 2015?

Yes, the Connecting Cheshire programme is making great progress, we have already overcome many significant engineering challenges and we have many more ahead, but we have a highly motivated and skilled engineering team that is working hard to deliver superfast broadband as quickly as possible. These challenges do mean that some communities may have to wait a little longer than others, although elsewhere we have been able to connect areas quicker than we anticipated.

Thanks Dan, we look forward to your next update soon.