Sewers provide Bournemouth with leased-line alternative

"It takes time to get used to the smell, and it can be quite claustrophobic, but after a while it becomes like any other day at the office." This is...

"It takes time to get used to the smell, and it can be quite claustrophobic, but after a while it becomes like any other day at the office."

This is Lee Roberts, a field engineer with H2O networks, the company that will deliver super-fast fibre connections across the entire city of Bournemouth - through its sewer system.

H2O begins work underground in September to connect 85,000 sites in Bournemouth to an all-fibre network. It will deliver speeds in excess of 20Gbps to all homes and business within two years.

The system of installing fibre via sewers could offer businesses in the area an alternative to expensive leased-line connections.

"Bournemouth has a large number of financial services institutions and needs fast connections. Once the network is up and running we expect more businesses to invest in the area," said Nick King, the councillor for Bournemouth.

The network will cost approximately £24m to build, but King said its construction would not cost the taxpayer a penny, as no road works would be required to lay the fibre.

"Apart from the cost of connecting to the network through a service provider, homes and businesses are getting a faster connection for free," said Roberts.

Elfed Thomas, managing director of H2O networks, said the network will be built in five stages, with each stage connecting a group 17,000 users. The first stage starts in September and will go live in March and April of 2009.

Although Bournemouth will be the first city to have an all-sewer fibre deployment, some universities across the UK have already gone live with sewer broadband.

Kris Shah, network manager at the University of Bath, said the university will save 60% on the cost of using leased lines to connect five off-campus sites over a 10-year period.

He said the advantage of the sewer system over leased lines is that the costs are not dependent on how much capacity is required.

"With a leased line, we would have paid a one-off installation cost of £7,000 plus £2,000 a year for a 10Mbps connection. If we wanted to upgrade to 100Mbps the price jumped to £8,000 a year," he said.

"We are now running a 1Gbps connection connecting all sites and expect to save 60% over a 10-year period."

In February, the government announced a review to examine to how to remove barriers for operators for investing in fibre networks.

It will report in the autumn on whether there are opportunities to minimise the cost of private sector investment, including offsetting the cost of road works for network providers.

Although politicians argue about the hows and whys, Lee Roberts and his team of underground field engineers are getting on with the job of delivering gigabyte access for Bournemouth.

"We are putting in all this cabling in for other people, but you wish sometimes when you are at home downloading stuff yourself that you could have a piece of it, too," said Roberts.

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