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Superfast network build brings broadband to Somerset village

Specialist ISP Satellite Internet has connected the third and final village in its BDUK market test pilot project in Somerset in just seven weeks

The village of Broomfield in North Somerset has seen a twelvefold increase in the average broadband speed available to locals after taking part in a government-funded market test pilot supported by Connecting Devon and Somerset and specialist internet service provider (ISP) Satellite Internet.

With a population of around 250, Broomfield, which lies in the Quantock Hills around five miles from Taunton, was the third and final village selected to take part in Satellite Internet’s market test pilot.

The pilot was backed by £175,000 of money from Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) as part of a trial to explore alternative broadband delivery methods.

Final approval for the Broomfield project came late in the market test pilot project, which resulted in a very limited deployment timeframe. This gave Satellite Internet a mere seven weeks to connect the village to Ka-band satellite backhaul to support a local wireless network.

The project used an SES Techcom satellite distribution node and Wi-Fi head-end installed at a central location, with a fixed access wireless network supplying connectivity directly into the homes taking part in the trial. A number of houses that could not be covered by this method had an individual direct-to-home satellite dish installed.

The service, which is now up and running, covered 24 village properties and saw them upgrade from an average speed of 2Mbps to 25Mbps, just scraping the government definition of superfast broadband.

“I’m delighted for everyone in Broomfield who now has the opportunity to access improved broadband as a result of this technology trial,” said Somerset County Council deputy leader David Hall.

“The ability to access high-quality communications infrastructure is critical to businesses and an important part of improving quality of life. The more people across Somerset and Devon who are connected, the better for everyone.”

Proving a point

Satellite Internet business development director David Hennell praised the support of Broomfield’s parish council and local community for ensuring the roll-out was a success.

The parish council played a key role, he said, in providing information about the upcoming trial, including running a community drop-in session in January 2016 to sign up residents.

He said the effectiveness of the installation and supporting network was an excellent proof point to demonstrate the speed and flexibility with which satellite connectivity can be deployed.

“This has created high-speed, reliable connectivity in an area where broadband speeds were very slow and where other more traditional and terrestrial-based methods of broadband delivery were simply unavailable,” said Hennell.

Satellite Internet claimed that more than 60% of households taking part in the pilot in the nearby villages of Luxborough and Simonsbath had opted to retain the service on a normal commercial basis after the programme ended, and hoped for similar results in Broomfield. 

Competition concerns

The BDUK market test pilots explored a number of other delivery technologies besides satellite, including fixed wireless, and mixed fibre and wireless. The pilots took place over the course of a year.

At the close of the scheme in February 2016, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it had successfully proved that small broadband suppliers – or altnets – could compete against the likes of larger concerns such as BT Openreach in bidding for and winning contracts to deliver superfast broadband under the BDUK scheme.

As a result, the government is attempting to make more efforts to get altnets to bid for the remaining contracts for Phase 2 of BDUK that have not yet been awarded.

However, speaking to Computer Weekly in February 2016, BDUK CEO Chris Townsend said these learnings did not mean that the awarding of all the Phase 1 contracts to BT meant the BDUK process was flawed.

“I think we went through the proper procurement process for Phase 1, and that has been well documented by the Public Accounts Committee, the National Audit Office and in the media,” he said at the time.

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