With the recent announcement of the blanket EU State Aid Approval  we should be able to talk about the Openreach fibre based broadband products without always having to refer to information from Cornwall.

The reason why Cornwall features in fibre broadband news so heavily is that by starting its own Superfast Cornwall project well before the BDUK / local authority projects had even started to have meetings, let alone pick a commercial operator provide a service.

So people can do a bit of 21st century trainspotting, here are a few pictures taken in the summer of 2012 on the one day it did not rain, when we paid a visit to Cornwall.

Openreach FTTC cabinet in Cornwall, showing vinyl marketing poster

Example of Superfast Cornwall / Openreach plastic wrap

The standard FTTC cabinet is 1.4m high and in Cornwall they usually get a nice vinyl overlay to make it clear what it is for. There have been people who see the branding and assume this is a BT Infinity promotion, but it is pretty clear if can stop to read the poster that this is a provider agnostic promotion.  The QR code on the cabinet takes people to the http://www.superfastcornwall.org/ website which provides a lot more information on the project.

With the commercially driven superfast roll-out by Openreach in the rest of the UK covering around 40% of properties, many people are now well used to the FTTC services, what is more unusual in Cornwall is the amount of Fibre to the Premises including some early Fibre on Demand trial work.

View of Cornish coast line from old engine house

View from balcony of engine house used by uknetweb and enjoying 330 Mbps fibre connectivity

One of the early locations for Fibre on Demand has been St Agnes, where the business UKNetWeb who operate from a converted engine house on the north Cornwall coast. They have gone from a fixed wireless solution, to FTTC to now a 330 Mbps Fibre on Demand product, which allows them to much more quickly deploy completed development projects for clients, while enjoying wonderful views.

One of the advantages of fibre on demand and FTTP where available is that the system relies on passive optical networking, so only power is needed at the handover node (telephone exchange) and customer premises. This does mean that there is very little to see on the ground. In Falmouth which has some pretty narrow streets, there is a fibre to the premises deployment that is using overhead cabling. Overhead fibre can be easier to deploy, but is probably only going to appear in areas where overhead telephone wiring is already present.

Top of telephone pole, with fibre manifold

Telephone pole in Falmouth with connected FTTP customers

The only real giveaway that there are fibre services from this pole, is the present of the manifold (black round lozenge around 20cm), the main fibre feed enters from the bottom, and in this case two black fibres can be seen leaving the top.

Fibre manifold showing the 12 colour coded connections supported

Fibre manifold open to show support for 12 fibre connections

The above picture (taken in Milton Keynes) shows what is inside the manifold, which is fibre connections for up to 12 consumers lines. The manifold is the last link before the final fibre drop that runs to a property.

Overhead deployment of fibre to home with existing telephone line

Fibre drop and associated telephone line arriving at a property

The running of a fibre to a property results in an overhead run that is only slightly thicker than the usual deployment and in the above picture the fibre would have continued around the outside of the property to where it would terminate on the outside of the property in a weather proof box. When the service is activated, the final engineer visit involves running a shorter piece of fibre more suited for use inside a building from this external box to a location inside the property.

Once problem that arose in Cornwall was that with cobbled, narrow streets locating the fibre splitter, which is used to feed several manifolds, and usually each street one or two. The normal method is to locate the fibre splitter in a pavement chamber, the solution was to locate it on the telegraph pole.

32 way tray fibre splitter mounted on pole, rather than in pavement chamber

Innovation creates pole mounted fibre splitter

The green box is carefully designed to be the same width as the telephone pole, and when opened the 32 fibre trays are revealed. Waveguides are used to split the light for onward distribution to the manifolds.

32 tray fibre splitter

Pole mounted fibre splitter with cover removed

The other end of the fibre deployments is very different to the old fashioned PSTN (copper) network, and the following picture shows the incoming fibre management cabinet which while serving several exchange areas has scope for lots of expansion. Once fibre take-up reaches the point that the copper network can be de-commissioned the scope for a serious reduction in the size of telephone exchanges is very evident.

Cabinet in handover node (exchange) handling incoming fibres

Trays where incoming fibres are terminated and linked to internal fibre in exchange

The fibre management cabinet backs onto the actual handover node, where the fibres are terminated. The rack in this picture shows a fairly full top segment, with plenty of capacity in the lower half of the cabinet.

Where the fibre ends up in the telephone exchange/handover node

The business end of fibre connections in the telephone exchange

As with almost all cable systems, be they fibre or ethernet in a data centre there are the ubiquotous yellow tags to help identify each wire. The FTTP, FTTC and Fibre on Demand fibres all terminate at this location. The less populated left hand side of the cabinet is the fibre connectivity carrying the data to the various providers own hardware, i.e. BT Wholesale and its WBC network, and Sky and TalkTalk who both also buy fibre services from Openreach.

So there we have it, a short pictorial tour of some fibre in the UK. While Openreach is still only planning FTTP for around 10% of UK homes, if the pricing of FTTP on Demand is right we might in 2013 start to see those who work from home, or are just speed freaks opting for this option, and perhaps if demand levels are high a point at which FTTP can be seen as more commercially viable.

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