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Drone Helps Connect Broadband in Remote Highland Glen

Engineers achieved a Scottish first to bring ultrafast broadband to Glenmazeran

Energy & Utilities

Drone Helps Connect Broadband in Remote Highland Glen

Drones in airspace are now helping connect people with technology better. In a first, engineers used a drone to fly broadband and reach it to a remote property in a Highland glen, reports Openreach.

This innovative and unorthodox technique of hitching the cable to the drone to reach a home on the other side of a 50-metre wide stretch of river in Glenmazeran was implemented by the Openreach team.

The crossing was part of a project to help offer ultrafast broadband services for residents in Glenmazeran, near Inverness. A peculiar challenge arose when laying of a new armoured cable along 10km of single-track road through the glen to the right of the River Findhorn, where most of the 37 scattered homes included in the first phase of the project are located; one property lay across the water.

Engineers completed a week’s training to become certified by the Civil Aviation Authority to fly the drone for commercial purposes, and then used it to fly the cable across the river, where it was connected to a telegraph pole. Having met success in their maiden drone attempt, Openreach plans to use drones as part of its “toolkit” to reach places in difficult terrain.

Kevin Drain, Openreach’s chief engineer for the north of Scotland, said: “Although Glenmazeran is only 20 miles from Inverness, the properties are very remote and scattered. The challenge was reaching one remote home, 400 metres away from the main route, where the fibre cable needed to span a 50-metre wide stretch of river.”

Describing the various techniques used by Openreach in the past, Drain said, “We’ve tried all sorts of ways to do this – like attaching cables to fishing lines, golf balls and even hammers. This is the first time we’ve used a drone to drop fibre into place here in Scotland and as a delivery method it’s unbeatable. We did need to practise our technique. It’s a bit different from connecting up a street in Inverness, that’s for sure!”

The Glenmazeran project is co-funded by residents. The community use money from local wind farm operator Eneco, and Openreach. Residents are also helping to dig in the final lengths of cable which travel from the new fibre spine to their properties.

Work is ongoing to connect properties to Fibre-to-the-Premises technology (FTTP), with the network now live and around two-thirds of the 37 homes able to order a service. The rest are expected to follow later this month. The technology can deliver download speeds of up to one gigabit per second (1Gbps) – enough bandwidth to stream 200 HD Netflix movies simultaneously.

Robert Thorburn, partnership director for Openreach in Scotland, said: “This may be one of the quirkier uses for a drone, but innovations like this means we can now deliver high-speed broadband in situations where traditionally it’s been impossible for any business or partnership to justify the work.” The Scottish Openreach team is one of only five in the UK now approved to fly drones.

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