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.

14 comments
cyberdoyle
cyberdoyle

Great stuff, keep rocking, where there's a will there's a way...

boanergesza1
boanergesza1

I read with Dismay at the broadband speeds acheived here. here in South Africa you are lucky if you can get 10Mbs, nevermind 40 or 100!! Myself, I have a 4Mbs ADSL line at home. Our incumbant provider has basicly zero competition. We are still rolling twisted pair copper to the home, nevermind fibre! Recenlty a upsurge of Mobile Data has been exprerienced here, but with high latency and spotty connectivity its not a real compeititor to a fixed line. It would be great if i had the oppertunity to lay my own fibre cabling, but alas the incumbant had made sure this wont happen!

Solenoid
Solenoid

This sounds amazing. My business has fiber running along its rear property line, but it's frontage is to an industrial park that lacks fiber. The carrier's sales rep (as if I'm supposed to believe such) related that fiber was scheduled to be implemented first quarter 2012, when we were moving in last quarter 2011. No, it hasn't happened. Your anecdote is eye-opening, but where would I find more about DIY fiber? Thanks.

dennis.merola
dennis.merola

You must be in the rural areas of Great Brittain... this would never fly in most U.S. communities...

JT8901
JT8901

How did you locate the fiber cable sources in your locale?

peter
peter

Or as I would say: there is nothing sacred or secret here, there really isn't, and it aint rocket science !

peter
peter

With only one supplier you are more or less dead in the water...and with broadband at thoes speeds RSA will not be joining the 21st Century any time soon. Best bet is to form your own society/group/company and go rattle some political cages!

peter
peter

Depends where you are living - many countries have 'self help groups' and societies dedicated to getting a fix asap. Try searching the web under FTTH, community broadband +++

peter
peter

Depends where you are - I find rural USA very similar to rural UK - and farming communities are just used to being self sufficient. Thumb sucking farmers just don't survive, and neither do the loners. it is all about community!

peter
peter

Indeed I am in 'the boonies' of the UK, but you know what, I hear a lot of interesting stories and unusual solutions coming out of the backwaters of the USA too - wherever there is a will there is a way :-)

Zorched
Zorched

"Community Outreach" here in the U.S. often refers to how far you have to reach to slap your neighbor. Actually sharing and cooperating for the benefit of all is foreign here now due to the "It's all mine, the heck with you!" mentality we seemed to have learned from our corporate culture. If you're caught in a manhole here without a permit or city escort, you will either be fined heavily or jailed, depending on whether they think they can pin you a terrorist or not. "Land Of The Free" my regulated, RIAA/MPAA/Patent/Corporate controlled rear.

peter
peter

Well - I used to work for the Telco and had a hand in engineering most of the early trials and a wider activity in the country-wide network. I also have many friends in the industry...and in general people are kind and well disposed to help.

peter
peter

Societies and cultures are very different indeed and some are more relaxed that others - in my farming community the ethos is definitely JDI or with a little more urgency JFDI :-)

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