Openreach Saves £10m, Extends FTTP Rollout Via ‘Subtended Headends’

Openreach is saving money with signal boosting equipment that helps it expand the rollout of its ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network into more challenging locations.

Openreach announced the piece of kit helping is called ‘Subtended Headends’ (SHE), which it is installing into green street cabinets.

Essentially it helps Openreach avoid having to undertake expensive civil works (i..e. digging up roads etc), and has allowed Openreach to save £10 million per year in FTTP build costs.

Openreach has been using SHE since 2019, and they are said to be mini exchanges that allow Openreach to deploy a new full fibre network three times further. It also allows Openreach to cut build time by up to six months.

Subtended Headends install in East Clandon, Surrey.
Image credit Openreach

Subtended Headends

These ‘Subtended Headends’ are typically installed into the green street cabinets found on UK streets and neighbourhoods, and they allow the fibre optic cable stemming from the cabinet to reach three times their normal reach (over 200km) by boosting the optical signal.

Until the use of SHE, optical signal boosting equipment had typically been installed in a main telephone exchange building.

But placing this tech more locally into local green street cabinets, brings those homes and properties that are typically too far from a cabinet, within reach of Openreach’s FTTP rollout.

Openreach told Silicon UK that its engineers have now deployed around 100 individual ‘SHEs’, across the UK, connecting up around 160,000 homes and businesses that would otherwise have been beyond commercial reach.

This has helped Openreach avoid the need to build over 1,262 km of new fibre cabling or ‘spine’.

By ‘piggy-backing’ on the existing VDSL copper based cabinet network in this way, a single ‘SHE’ location has the capacity to connect up to a thousand additional homes and businesses. It also cuts up to six months in build time and the costs involved in deploying new fibre cables or ‘spines’ all the way from an exchange to a property.

“Openreach has a strong track record of investing more than any other company into rural broadband upgrades,” said Openreach’s Chief Engineer, Andy Whale. “We’re rolling out Full Fibre to reach 25m homes and businesses and a quarter of that – around 6m premises – will be in the hardest to reach third of the country.

“We’ve already built Full Fibre to around half of those harder to reach homes and businesses and this innovation is helping us to build faster and further into these more remote parts the country – especially in more rural areas, on a very large scale but more efficiently and at a much lower cost,” said Whale.

Remote locations

Openreach cited the example of the remote Welsh Amman valley, where seven SHEs have removed the need for 20 km of fibre cable ‘spine’ – much of which would’ve been on narrow 60 mph roads.

Openreach said this means the project can be completed two years early, with savings of almost £1 million.

Openreach is investing £15 billion to build the ultrafast FTTP network to 25 million homes and businesses by the end of 2026.

The FTTP network has so far reached 11 million premises .

There are said to be at least 29 million homes in the UK, and this number is growing annually.

The advantage of full fibre connections is that it can deliver speeds of up to 1Gbps, and will allow BT to continue switching people away from its legacy analogue copper-based connections.

The UK government had an ambitious target of making 1Gbps capable broadband available to at least 85 percent of the country by 2025.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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