The challenge of laying cables in difficult and remote terrain Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Enterprising communications engineers were determined to bring a small rural Welsh village high speed broadband internet access and found the solution by using another 21st century technology to get the job done – a drone.

“Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits,” is the motto of communications provider Openreach whose engineers carried out the work. Much of the countryside in Wales is made up of mountainous terrain and deep valleys; the region in which the isolated cluster of 20 houses known as Pontfadog is no different and is surrounded by forest.

In the spirit of Ockham’s Razor, the engineers being hands-on ideas people, thought the best solution was the simplest so they sent for a drone. The plan was to attach the drone to 100 m of strong fishing line and fly it over the top of the forest canopy and drop it to give the team an unobstructed route. The fishing line in turn would be hooked up to a draw rope that could be used to pull the fibre cable along the route towards the village.

But the drone wasn’t powerful enough to lift the heavy fibre cable, so instead, super strength fishing line was attached and flown above the tree canopy. The fishing line was attached to a draw rope which was attached to the cable. The cable was led into position, slung between two telegraph poles, by pulling the second rope. 

Chief engineer Andy Whale told the BBC, “It's a bit different to connecting an apartment block in London, that's for sure”.

If the engineering team tried to run the cable through woods, he said, it was also very likely the team’s work would get caught up in branches and other natural obstructions.

“We figured the best option was to fly it in over the top of the tree canopy and then lift it up to make sure it was clear of the tree line," he said.

This technique to roll out broadband had never been used in the UK before. It reduced days of complex engineering work down to less than an hour, Mr Whale said. The isolated village of Pontfadog now has broadband speed up to 1Gbps.

Openreach plans to train and equip its engineering teams to fly drones and deploy fibre cables in the same way across other regions in Britain. View footage of the project.


Image: Openreach