Underground network targets Salisbury: Not the Russian death crew, this time it's Openreach laying fibre-optic cables

Ground-penetrating radar and micro ducting to keep that lovely cathedral untouched

The sleepy English city of Salisbury – infamous for the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal last year – is once again the target of an underground network. Yep, Openreach's full-fibre plans.

After the mass disruption caused by the Novichok nerve agent, you'd be forgiven for thinking residents might want a bit of peace and quiet. However, the broadband peddler reckons its ground-penetrating radar (GPR) technology and micro ducting will "minimise" disturbance.

The technology is part of the overall project, which aims to provide fibre-optic broadband cables from the exchange directly to more than 20,000 premises across the city next year.

The GPR technology is intended to scan for copper before digging up pavements – to avoid ripping up entire roads.

"The last thing we want to do is cut off people's supply by accidentally damaging a cable," said Openreach's chief engineer Andy Whale. Indeed.

Micro ducting is intended to allow teams to install new cables at a rate of 300 metres each day, apparently reducing road works by 50 per cent. It will use specialist digging tools to excavate a small trench along pavements to accommodate fibre-optic cables without any heavy-duty equipment.

The city is one of 38 locations across the UK to have now been included in the first phase of Openreach's full fibre programme, intended to reach four million homes by the end of 2020.

Just 10 per cent of premises in Salisbury will be served by new infrastructure going into the ground. However, this method hasn't been tried anywhere else, which of course means things may not go exactly to plan.

Adam Lang, Oprenreach civil engineer, said the programme will be a proof of concept for how the broadband pusher hopes to deploy full fibre to the rest of Blighty.

Some 1.2 million homes and businesses have access to fibre to the premises (FTTP) via Openreach. Currently FTTP is available to a paltry 7 per cent of UK properties, compared to 80 per cent in parts of mainland Europe.

Openreach's daddy BT has recently been talking up its FTTP game, outlining plans to increase rollout to 15 million homes by 2025.

BT's fibre plan has been subject to heavy criticism over the years, including accusations of under-investing in Blighty's infrastructure by sweating its ancient copper network, and of focusing too much on pumping cash into its consumer division. For example, BT last year splurged £295m on Premier League rights for each season until 2021/22. ®

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