Cambridge Opens Over 100km of Duct to Full Fibre Broadband ISPs

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The University of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire County Council have joined forces to launch a new company called Light Blue Fibre, which will essentially open up access to over 100km of ducting and wholesale Dark Fibre for use by UK broadband ISPs that want to deploy Gigabit capable “full fibre” networks in Cambridge.

The assets consist of both the University’s existing 75km Granta Backbone Network (GBN), which is a privately owned optical fibre network, and additionally new ducting is being developed alongside the construction of The Chisolm Trail and Linton Greenway walking and cycling schemes (this will result in a 40km fibre corridor from St Ives to Linton).

The latter development stems from a recent policy approved by the county council, which cleverly made it a requirement for all new major infrastructure projects (roads, paths and cycle routes etc) to include fibre ducting during construction. As a result the council’s network of passive infrastructure will expand extensively over the coming years.

Simply put, Light Blue Fibre makes all of their current and future fibre assets available on a wholesale basis, with no minimum term, via “quick and easy access.” Operators can thus choose to either blow their own fibre down the existing ducts or gain wholesale access to the “unrestricted and unlitDark Fibre network.

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The establishment of the new company was supported at Cambridgeshire County Council’s Commercial & Investment Committee in February this year, when the go ahead was given for the development and commercialisation of the two organisations’ existing fibre ducting assets.

Board Members from the University of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire County Council then formally signed an agreement to create the joint venture in May 2019, and the official launch of Light Blue Fibre took place today in the University of Cambridge’s historic Combination Room.

Professor Ian Leslie, Chair of the Board for Light Blue Fibre, said:

“This is a very exciting joint venture. The development of Light Blue Fibre will make the existing and future ducting and fibre assets of two major networks in Cambridgeshire available for community and commercial use. It will provide local businesses, government, health and the education sector with cutting edge digital infrastructure, capable of meeting their data connectivity and communication needs for now and into the future and it gives the University more opportunities for wider connectivity.”

Margot James, UK Minster for Digital, said:

“Through our modern Industrial Strategy we’re building a nationwide full fibre network to make the UK fit for the future.

Local partnerships in Cambridgeshire are sharing resources and infrastructure in a new way to help realise this vision, bringing about a significant boost in gigabit speeds for the benefit of homes and businesses in rural areas.”

The development could come in handy for operators like Cityfibre, which is currently in the process of investing £20m to build a new Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the city that will reach around 60,000 premises (here). Likewise the area is home to another full fibre ISP called Cambridge Fibre and of course Virgin Media already has an extensive hybrid fibre coax network in the city.

Meanwhile Openreach have covered a section of Cambridge with their ultrafast hybrid fibre G.fast technology and they’re rolling out some FTTP too, although it’s not known whether they’ll take advantage of the new proposal. Both they and Virgin Media might not need to do so given that their existing infrastructure can already reach many of the same areas, but there’s always scope for improvement.

Overall this is a good development and is yet another scheme that shows how existing infrastructure can be put to use for helping to spread ultrafast broadband connectivity.

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