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Bournemouth floats UK's first 100Mbps sewer broadband network

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Bournemouth will be the UK's first town to benefit from a town-wide fibre network, with 100Mbit/s access available to businesses and consumers, via the sewer system.

H2O Networks, a start-up we wrote about earlier this year, will lay cable to more than 88,000 homes at a cost of about £30m.

The firm is funded by venture capital, and aims to begin deployment in September. The project is scheduled to take two-and-a-half years over five stages, with each covering more than 17,000 premises.

The Bournemouth development has the backing of the local council. Officials hope the fibre network will attract more business to the area. A pilot network has already been installed to connect council buildings across the town, which was up against fellow commercial powerhouses Dundee and Northampton for the bragging rights conferred by the first full depolyment.

H2O Networks managing director Elfred Thomas outlined the ambition of the scheme. "This will be the world's largest single fibre deployment," he said. "It's not just a one off. We are working with our partners here and overseas to create more Fibre Cities."

It's not known how much 100Mbit/s will cost consumers or businesses yet. H2O Networks plans to act only as the network owner. It'll lease access to broadband and IPTV providers over the top, and let them do the billing and customer service donkey work, including taking the fibre from the street access point into the home. The price consumers end up paying will be dependent on the terms of these deals, says H2O Networks.

Thomas expects to announce the first of these deals very soon.

The company also aims to profit from a whole range of untapped fibre to the premises applications such as healthcare and education systems. "That's the whole point of Fibre Cities," Thomas said.

H2O Networks reckons it can cover the whole country inside a few years at much lower cost than the £15bn figure for a national fibre network being bandied about in Whitehall. Ofcom has only just begun to nudge BT and others to consider using existing duct infrastructure.

Running fibre in the sewers means huge savings on civil engineering costs. H2O Networks' workers will use the sewers to get cable as close to premises as possible. They'll then use a system called blown mini ducting to get the cable to the door via a 20mm-wide, 100mm-deep channel. The firm is to write to Bournemouth residents for permission to do the work, which will cause minimal disruption and cost them nothing, it says. ®

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