In this case study, we look how REHAU executed a rural fibre-optic installation with a direct line from a Vantage data centre to a village in Wales.
When community interest company MyFi tasked Beacons Telecom with establishing a high-speed connection from Michaelston-y-Fedw to a nearby data centre, cutting-edge microduct solutions from REHAU were required to blow the 500+ fibres down the narrow Openreach ducts. Moreover, with the UK’s connectivity targets just over the horizon, it was critical that redundancy was available via spare sub ducts to facilitate future installations.
At first glance, Michaelston-y-Fedw is a village like any other. A picturesque settlement located halfway between Newport and Cardiff; it can now lay claim to being the first rural community-built 1GB fibre-to-the-premises network in Wales.
Rural settings have often been overlooked as gigabit-capable connections are rolled out across the UK, with urban spaces traditionally being easier to integrate into the country’s superfast broadband infrastructure. However, community interest company MyFi was founded in October 2017 to ensure that Michaelston-y-Fedw was able to benefit from connectivity as much as the nearby capital.
David Schofield, Director of MyFi, said: “Previously, the core equipment for connectivity was installed at a hub within the village. However, as the site was unsecured, we felt unauthorised entry and vandalism posed a significant risk. Frequent power cuts also rendered the site impractical, as cooling and supply issues were common. As such, we proposed a direct connection to a nearby data centre.”
THE OPENREACH DUCT SYSTEM
The existing hub connection would be replaced with one to the CWL1 data centre, some 1.1km away, by way of a point-to-point fibre-to-the-premises network. This data centre is the largest of its kind in Europe, a 50-acre campus operated by hyperscale provider Vantage Data Centres. An installation of this kind, with a direct connection from the village to the campus, is a unique occurrence within the UK.
Contrary to the usual practice of using a PON splitter to divide one connection from the data centre between multiple properties, each home within Michaelston-y-Fedw was provided with a direct leased line connection to the data centre. Crucially, this would provide the village residents with 10gGB download speeds of unrivalled consistency, as using individual lines guaranteed no contention would take place.
Beacons Telecom, an Ultrafast Fibre Broadband Company, were contracted to complete the installation. Since June 2019, Ofcom’s statement on Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) allows internet service providers (ISPs) and contractors to make use of the existing BT Openreach ducts to provide Public Electronic Communications Services and/or Public Electronic Communications Network. As the Openreach ducts already span the length and breadth of the country, there is no need for contractors to begin installations from scratch, allowing fibre networks to be constructed far more quickly.
However, this brought about its own challenges as Trevor Mosedale, CEO of Beacons Telecom, explained: “At only 25mm bundle size restrictions, the Openreach ducts were extremely narrow, especially as a total of 576 fibres would be required to complete the installation. Because of this, we needed a solution that could ensure the connection would be established despite infrastructure limitations.”
To facilitate the installation, REHAU provided RAUSPEED duct bundles that could be easily installed into the Openreach ducts followed by blowing in the fibre-optic cables. Crucially, REHAU’s PIA duct bundle was and is the only triple sub duct solution available that was able to fit within a 25mm size restrictions. This meant that, despite width limitations, the 576 fibres would be able to be comfortably blown into the Openreach ducts, even allowing room for redundancy.
Moreover, the PIA duct bundle’s RAU-PP sheath provided increased tensile strength to guarantee the vital fibres within were not damaged during the blowing-in process, while three microducts within the bundle allowed fibre optic cables to be blown-in through one or more channels, leaving space for future installations if required.
The blowing-in process began on 24th April, with the 576 MiDia 200 Micro GX Cable fibres split into two 288-fibre cables in two separate ducts, leaving a third free. Despite the 8.2mm outer diameter of each fibre optic cable and the three 12/9.8 microducts within the RAUSPEED PIA duct bundle comfortably housed the fibre optic cables, allowing the blowing-in process to go ahead.
The Openreach ducts were first cleaned with sponges and then lubricated. Despite the aforementioned width restrictions, REHAU’s sub ducts allowed fibres to be blown-in at around 58 metres per minute, nearing the maximum blowing speed of 60 metres per minute. Each blow lasted roughly 20 minutes, allowing the full installation to be completed within the day.
Establishing a direct connection to the Vantage data centre had a measurable effect upon Michaelston-y-Fedw and its residents. The village is now capable of 10GBs download speeds, rivalling that of even the most high-speed city connections. The overall size of the settlement’s network also saw a significant expansion, with user numbers rising by as much as 60%, from 250 to 400, with around 100 local businesses now able to connect.
While REHAU’s RAUSPEED PIA duct bundle allowed fibre to be easily blown into the narrow Openreach ducts, they also integrated a critical element of redundancy into Michaelston-y-Fedw’s fibre-optic network. As the sub ducts used feature three channels for fibres – with only two necessary for the installation – this leaves scope for future fibre projects to be completed far more easily, as microduct infrastructure is already in place.
Paul Churm, Telecoms Specialist for REHAU’s Fibre Optic Division, spoke on what this means for the UK’s connectivity goals: “Considering the UK government’s target of achieving 85% coverage for gigabit-capable broadband by 2025, there is increasing pressure on ISPs to incorporate redundancy into their installations. This is being encouraged by schemes like the Welsh government’s Local Broadband Fund, which offers funding for community interest companies and local authorities to upgrade existing broadband infrastructure.”
“For contractors, this means that by utilising REHAU’s triple sub duct PIA bundles as part of their installation, they can receive additional government funding. This is due to the redundancy provided by the unused microducts, as it facilitates future installations by themselves or others. This also provides an opportunity for ISPs and contractors to rent the empty channels out to other broadband providers for use, while incurring no additional time or expense to themselves during the installation.”
The integration of a gigabit-capable broadband network in Michaelston-y-Fedw sets an important precedent for fibre rollout in the UK. With higher broadband speeds more commonly associated with urban settings rather than rural ones, the Government should be wary not to leave the nation’s towns and villages behind in its charge for connectivity. This installation demonstrates that by deploying innovative solutions, the UK might look to exceed its target of 85% coverage, and that a higher standard of connectivity is available for hard-to-reach settlements.
Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Climate Change with a responsibility for digital said: “Over this challenging period, the importance of fast, reliable broadband has become even more apparent. While this area is not devolved to Wales, we are taking action to bring faster broadband speeds and better mobile connectivity where we can.”
“The extension of the Michaelston-y-Fedw MyFi network to the Vantage data centre and Bassaleg is one of the many projects that the Welsh Government’s Local Broadband Fund has supported to help improve slow broadband speeds and poor mobile connection - making a real difference to this community. The Local Broadband Fund is aimed at supporting innovative solutions in areas that are difficult to reach, and Beacons Telecom’s use of the cutting-edge microduct solutions from REHAU during this project is exactly what the fund was set up to achieve.”
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