Remote Northumberland village is first in County to get pioneering new superfast broadband technology

Villagers connected to high-speed broadband using radio waves

The remote rural village of Coanwood has become the first community in Northumberland to benefit from a pioneering technology which brings superfast broadband to challenging areas.

All homes and businesses in the small village now have access to broadband speeds of up to 80Mbps – using a five kilometre microwave radio link.

The innovative scheme was possible thanks to the the iNorthumberland programme, a partnership between BT and Northumberland County Council.

Councillor Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “This innovation illustrates our commitment to pushing the boundaries of how far we can deploy high-speed broadband and ensuring that the economic and social benefits that modern digital communications will help deliver are accessible to everyone, no matter how remote or rural their location. By proving the value of this new technology, we hope that it will be used in other appropriate locations in the future.”

This wireless solution is part of BT’s toolkit of innovative technologies designed to expand the reach of fibre broadband. It is also testament to BT’s on-going commitment to innovation. In 2014/15 alone, the company invested £502 million in research and development.

Mike Reynolds, project manager at Openreach, BT’s local network business, is in charge of the physical roll-out of faster broadband across the county and part of the iNorthumberland team. He said: “Using microwave radio was the ideal solution for Coanwood. We were determined to find a way to make superfast fibre available to the village, however the cost laying five kilometres of new duct and fibre was prohibitive and the necessary roadworks would have caused significant disruption.”.

“We still had to overcome other technical challenges including the need for a specialist rock hammer drill to dig down deeper than usual as we needed to erect a 11m high poles. We also needed temporary ground matting for our specialist vehicle, used to erect the radio dishes to overcome the effects of ground water saturation caused by Storm Desmond.”

The microwave link uses ‘point-to-point’ technology which meant engineers had to install a small football sized transmitter dish at the top of a specially built 11 metre high wooden pole close to the telephone exchange building so that it could ‘see’ the receiving antenna erected on another pole situated five kilometres away in Coanwood. The broadband signal from the exchange is beamed across using a radio wave signal to link up the exchange with the receiving antenna which is then linked to a new green roadside fibre cabinet serving the village.

Mike added: “The microwave link uses a dedicated radio spectrum so there is no possibility of the signal being lost or interfered with. For people using broadband in the village, it will be exactly the same as if they were connected up using fibre optic cables in the ground. The increase in speed and subsequent benefits are exactly the same. Customers’ premises are connected up to the fibre cabinet in the usual way so there is no need for any special equipment in the home. ”

Simon Roberson, BT’s regional partnership director for the North East, said: “This is a great example of how the iNorthumberland programme is bringing superfast broadband to communities who otherwise would not be getting it.

“Northumberland’s large size, diverse geography and largely rural population present considerable challenges to rolling out high speed broadband but innovations like this will help to ensure we achieve our goal to increase fibre broadband coverage in the county to 95 per cent of premises by 2017.”

The iNorthumberland broadband programme, a key part of the council’s growth investment, is being delivered by Northumberland County Council and BT.BT was awarded the iNorthumberland contract in April 2013 following a procurement exercise through the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework. A second phase contract was signed in June which will see more than £4.1 million invested in the programme area in addition to the £18.9 million initially invested by Northumberland County Council, the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) fund, BT and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).1

The majority of premises in Northumberland will be getting access to some of the best broadband speeds in the UK via iNorthumberland and the commercial roll-out of fibre by BT’s local network business, Openreach. Openreach’s network is open to all broadband service providers on an equal wholesale basis and so Northumberland households and businesses can benefit from highly competitive products and pricing from a range of providers.

For up to date information on the roll-out visit www.inorthumberland.org.uk.