BT bringing fibre broadband to the farmhouse

Alwen Williams, director for BT Cymru/Wales, looks at the important relationship between connectivity and farming

Innovation in farming isn’t just desirable, it’s essential.

I have seen my family’s farm in Gwytherin innovate and evolve continuously in order to be as efficient and productive as possible in response to industry, market and government demands. Machinery and technology have transformed the way things are now done compared to how it used to be.

Some have already termed this transition ‘Ag 3.0’. Just like the transition from pre-industrial/high labour farming to industrial machinery, this new approach to farming is one which involves exploiting data from automated machinery and GPS tracking, to live sensors which can deliver real-time soil composition and cattle movement data to your laptop or smartphone.

The work BT Wales is doing is giving us the ability to have a leading role in this global revolution in farming. It is one we all need to embrace given the economic instability ahead of us, and the eternal battle to improve efficiencies and lower costs. This is especially important given the Welsh Government’s drive to complete more and more paperwork online.

The roll-out of superfast broadband across Wales and into rural areas gives farms the ability to use online services, data and applications to enhance their businesses and access global markets. Given my background and my passion for the agricultural industry we have in Wales, I am very proud to be able to contribute towards this.

I know a lot of farmers have made representations to NFU Cymru to state the impact a lack of broadband connectivity has on farm businesses. A lot of work has been done, but there is certainly more work to do.

Let me put the state of connectivity in Wales into context though – as a percentage of premises, Wales has more high speed broadband coverage than the economic powerhouse that is Germany. We’re approaching 90% coverage as a whole and our rural coverage has increased by more than 30% in the last two years – putting Wales 13% above the UK average for rural coverage according to a recent Ofcom report. Indeed, places like Dinas Mawddwy currently enjoy some of the fastest speeds in the UK thanks to Superfast Cymru’s Fibre–to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology which delivers an all fibre connection direct to a home or business.

If you’re still waiting for high-speed broadband these facts mean nothing to you. I understand that.

Work on our high-speed broadband rollout completes next year, but before then we have lots still to do in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Powys, Gwynedd and Monmouthshire.

This is a huge engineering project and we’re committed to rolling-out access to as many properties as possible. Already nearly nine out of ten homes and businesses can access superfast broadband speeds. We estimate that around 4% of Welsh premises – typically in the most remote areas - will fall outside the programme. How this impacts your businessesis largely a question for the Welsh Government given the prohibitive costs involvedbut BT Wales is determined to go even further.

We will co-invest with communities in the final 4% of the country that want to purchase a BT fibre solution of their own. You can register your interest at this website: www.communityfibre.bt.com.

Our recent acquisition of EE, the UK’s best mobile network, is going to lead to a new world of products and services. In the meantime, EE will be rolling out 4G mobile network to 90% of the UK by the end of 2017 and will reach 95% geographic coverage by 2020. Combined with BT’s high-speed broadband plans, our 4G roll-out will ensure that Wales is one of the best served countries in the world when it comes to superfast fixed and mobile services.

BT has also made representations to UK Government around its Universal Service Obligation where a minimum 10Mbps broadband service would be available to those premises in the final few per cent of the country that don’t have access to high-speed broadband. BT stands ready to help and has identified a technology which, under the right circumstances, could form part of the solution.

In the meantime, the Welsh Government operates two grant schemes that are unique in the UK and may help you - Access Broadband Cymru and the Ultrafast Voucher Scheme

In the months and years ahead I want to work closely with NFU Cymru to learn more about the innovative ways that superfast connectivity can transform Welsh farming. The success of the Superfast Cymru Programme will only be complete if we use it to innovate in every way possible. For more information on how the programme is progressing you can use the new and improved ‘Where and when’ checker on www.superfast-cymru.com.