Drone helps lift rural Welsh valley village to ultrafast speeds

Reporter:

Lucy Wain

A small village in the heart of rural Wales has become the first community in the world to be connected up to ultrafast fibre broadband thanks to an aerial drone.

Homes and businesses in the village of Pontfadog can now enjoy some of the fastest broadband speeds in Britain after an inventive team of engineers from Openreach used a drone to land cabling on an isolated group of homes under the Superfast Cymru partnership.

A team of engineers were faced with routing fibre cables over steep valley slopes, through a thick forest area and across a small river to provide broadband to twenty homes dubbed by other villagers as the ‘dark side’ because of their detachment.

The challenging rural terrain meant traditional engineering methods like digging trenches and erecting roadside cabinets had to be ruled out and - given its location in the valley - providing a wireless connection using satellite or radio wasn’t an option either.

Openreach’s chief engineer Andy Whale, who led the team, said: “We managed to connect up virtually the whole village in the valley floor, but getting to this group of 20 houses up one side of the valley was a bit trickier. There’s a particularly steep drop-off from these houses back down the valley, and it’s covered in dense trees and scrubland.

“We also had the river running along the bottom to contend with, so dragging a cable and digging it in wasn’t really an option.

The portable drone used by the team was too small to lift the fibre cable itself, so they hooked it up to a length of high strength fishing line which was then flown around 100 meters and dropped across the top of the trees.

Villager Chris Devismes, who lives in one of the 20 homes, is one of the first to get connected up to the new high-speed network.

He said: “I’m an aspiring writer, I work from home and publish my work online - so I do send full novels over the web to my editor or to readers. Before I would go away and cook tea whilst a file upload went through, but now it literally takes a matter of seconds.

Retired teacher Chris added: “When all three of us were online at the same time it could often be a struggle and things would start to buffer and freeze. It has made a world of difference to us and I think it’s going to make a huge difference to the lives of everyone living here in Pontfadog.”

Ed Hunt, regional director for Openreach, added: “Pontfadog is a great example of how our engineers never give up. They look at every possible engineering solution to deliver fibre broadband in isolated rural areas, and when the more traditional methods didn’t work, they came up with the rather simple yet ingenious idea of using the drone.”

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