Networking

Bandwidth problems? DIY fibre could dig you out of a hole

Waiting for an incumbent telecoms supplier to install real broadband can be futile. And a spot of DIY is often far easier than you might think.

If your bandwidth provider can't come up with the goods, involving the local community can be a viable alternative. Photo: Shutterstock

Written in my home and despatched to TechRepublic over a 40Mbps commercial-community 5GHz wi-fi service.

I used to have a home just 100 metres from an optical fibre cable. Its owners ruled that it wasn't cost-effective to connect me. So I did it myself with the help of my sons.

One weekend we popped the manhole covers and pulled an eight-core cable into the ducts - using my car because we didn't own a winch. We fed the fibre cable up through the wall cavity of my home into the attic and installed a Fujitsu terminal and a Cisco server.

Two phone calls later, two fibres were connected into the network and we had bandwidth - symmetric bandwidth. Unfortunately, a few years later I had to move home for family reasons and now live in the boonies with no fibre connection.

For the past five years I have been operating with bonded ADSL broadband lines giving 10Mbps download and 650kps upload. To be frank, it has been a reliable but impractical service. With a substandard download and useless upload rate, we often have to decamp to upload modest files to clients.

Well, it all came to a head recently when I was challenged to fix the problem by villagers suffering broadband at less than 1Mbps. How could I refuse? As the only IT and ex-telecoms guy in the vicinity, it was a challenge I couldn't ignore.

What to do? I knew the railway had an optical cable just 300 metres from my home, but they wouldn't talk to me. The incumbent has fibre cables 1.5km to the east and 700 metres to the west of me, but wanted well over £125,000 ($200,000) to dig a trench.

Worse still, they wouldn't hear of us digging our own trench - and this is an area rich in farm equipment. Nor would they countenance a commercial installer who offered to do the job for less than £6,500 ($10,000).

The sad thing is that the telecoms provider and the railway both have dark fibres to spare and even the fibres that are lit are operating far below full capacity. But ho hum, that's the way it is.

So I started scouting around and found a 5GHz wi-fi carrier coming in from the north-east, which to my delight led me to another community with a hybrid fibre wireless system just 2km away across open farmland.

A web search and a phone call later and I had located the company responsible and talks were initiated. To cut to the chase, my overtures led me to form a commercial-community broadband group, with access to 32Mbps both ways. We recently held a 60Mbps BYOD event at the local hotel so people could taste the speed. Sign-ups followed and an installation schedule is now in place.

Why a commercial-community scheme? We have trees - lots of trees - and 5GHz does not like rising sap and wet leaves. So to steer around them I am asking people to host reflector or mirror sites or to provide CAT5 cable across their backyards. This collaboration needs community spirit and a few kind hearts - of which we seem to have plenty.

Today I enjoy 40Mbps both ways at 5GHz via a wi-fi dish antenna. When the village is fully wired for an initial 32Mbps service, the plan is to migrate up to 100Mbps, and at some time in the future the target is 1,000Mbps.

To do all this I am taking advantage of the church tower in the centre of the village, a farmer's PMR/GPS tower and a local municipal radio mast. And in the spirit of the project, the antenna count on the mast on the side of my home is increasing by the day.

On a more sobering note, I've just flown back from Singapore where I enjoyed 1Gbps. So for a while my 40Mbps may feel slow and I'll have to remind myself what a joy it really is.

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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