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Broadband roll-out

The world of broadband is always fast moving, and it looks like 2022 is going to be a busy year. Already January has seen a flurry of stories about new investments in fibre broadband networks, with activities planned in many parts of the UK.

Among the news so far this month was Gresham House’s announcement that it is investing £162m into Borderlink Broadband though its GoFibre business in Scotland, Cumbria and Northumberland; Aviva Investors is putting £100m into Truespeed in the South-West; and the Scottish National Investment Bank will provide £20 million of funding to Lothian Broadband Group in rural and semi-rural areas of Scotland. Some of the Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit contracts are also getting underway.

With the need for faster broadband underlined so strongly by the Covid pandemic and the rise of remote working, this is great news for those communities that will be connected this year. But local and national economic growth also depends on good physical networks; with all those trenches to be dug, it’s vital that reinstatements are carried out properly so that they don’t deteriorate and create hazards and additional maintenance and repair costs for road owners.

The broadband picture is changing so quickly that the Government has just introduced a new way to work out which areas are commercially unviable – and hence need funding from the Project Gigabit pot. On 6 January 2022, the Government’s Building Digital UK team ‘soft launched’ its Rolling National Open Market Review, where suppliers will be asked to reveal their plans for commercial roll-outs every three months. The soft launch means that just a few suppliers will be asked to report initially.

Project Gigabit – from which only £1.2bn has been released to date – aims to help the UK reach the Government’s fast broadband aspirations of 85% coverage of homes and businesses by 2025 and 100% by 2030. Currently around 65% of the UK is covered by broadband networks with a minimum download speed of 1Gbps. Funding is expected to go largely to rural and semi-rural areas.

According to the Government’s autumn 2021 procurement update for Project Gigabit, three local supplier contracts, ranging from £3m to £18m in North Dorset, North Northumberland and Teesdale could begin in the summer this year. The first of the larger regional supplier contracts in Cumbria, valued at up to £109m, could be begin in September this year.

However, with all this welcome investment in the UK’s broadband network, there is an increased risk of road defects. A significant proportion of reinstatements fail; for instance, the Scottish Road Works Commissioner doled out hefty fines to utility companies in 2020, reporting that in 2018/19 there was a failure rate of 23% among reinstatements. Other parts of the UK have reported higher rates of failure.

Thermal Road Repairs’ (TRR) technology has been deployed for many years to fix defects in utility trench reinstatements. Because the solar-charged thermal heaters heat up the reinstatement material and the surrounding road surface, there is no waste. A small amount of additional material is added and mixed in and then the whole area compacted while warm – removing the risk of too high a proportion of air voids, which often causes premature failure in reinstatements.

In response to feedback from customers, TRR has now developed a new thermal heater designed specifically for the original reinstatement work, to ensure that they are done right first time. By heating up the joint area as the trench is filled, the old and new material blend into one, effectively removing the joint – along with the risk of air voids.

Better faster broadband coverage will no doubt encourage new ways of working. It makes sense for utility companies to embrace new ways of working for road reinstatements too.

Thermal Road Repairs is a green technology company which supplies systems to improve the quality, cost and time efficiency of road repairs and paving – at a far lower environmental cost than traditional methods. We invest significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve our existing ones.

High output. Low emission. Permanent solution.


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