openreach drone
(Openreach/PA)
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An Openreach drone flew across a river in the Scottish Highlands to help connect broadband to remote homes.

The Openreach team used the innovative method to reach a home on the other side of a 50-metre wide stretch of river in Glenmazeran.

A new armoured cable has been buried along 10km of single-track road through the glen to the right of the River Findhorn. This is where most of the 37 scattered homes included in the first phase of the project are located. But the team found a different approach was needed for a property across the water.

Engineers completed a week’s training to become certified by the Civil Aviation Authority to fly the drone for commercial purposes. They then used it to fly the cable across the river, where it was connected to a telegraph pole.

Openreach plans to use drones as part of its “toolkit” to reach places in difficult terrain. They see the gadgets are more reliable than previous methods they have used. These have included attaching cables to golf balls and hitting them over, or throwing them attached to a hammer.

Openreach Drone flying
The drone was used to fly cable across the river in Glenmazeran (Openreach/PA)

Kevin Drain, Openreach’s chief engineer for the north of Scotland, said: “Although Glenmazeran is only 20 miles from Inverness, the properties are very remote and scattered. We’ve had to contend with steep drops and bankings as we buried cable along the single-track road.

“But the biggest challenge was reaching one remote home. It’s 400 metres away from the main route, where the fibre cable needed to span a 50-metre wide stretch of river.

“This is the first time we’ve used a drone to drop fibre into place here in Scotland. And as a delivery method it’s unbeatable. Drones will now become part of our toolkit to reach places where the terrain means traditional engineering is difficult or impossible.

“We did need to practise our technique. It’s a bit different from connecting up a street in Inverness, that’s for sure!”

The technology can deliver download speeds of up to one gigabit per second (1Gbps) – enough bandwidth to stream 200 HD Netflix movies simultaneously.

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