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Underwater cable across Lake Windermere links up remote ‘Beatrix Potter’ village with superfast broadband

IMG_0977[A] remote community in the Lake District known for its association with author Beatrix Potter has joined the high-speed fibre broadband revolution following a major engineering operation, in which a submarine cable was laid across Lake Windermere

A specialist team of BT engineers used one of the lakes’ maintenance barges to install the 1000 metre-long cable to link up Far Sawrey with Connecting Cumbria’s broadband network. Divers then inspected the cable 60 metres below the surface to ensure the installation was successful.

Glenn Lipsham, a senior BT marine and terrestrial operations manager, who led the operation, said that being able to go across the lake had potentially saved months of costly and disruptive engineering work.

Glenn said: “To go around the lake would have involved installing terrestrial cabling over a distance of at least 15km. It would have taken weeks to install at the very least, just to do the cabling and jointing alone. If we’d had to do work like putting in new cable ducts and jointing chambers then it would easily have taken months to complete. You have to factor in not only the time it would have taken to build new ducts and lay cables, but also the cost and the potential disruption. The roads are mainly narrow or single track lanes – which means if you can’t build in the verge you have to close roads.”

Traversing the lake meant that a small team of 14 – including a six strong commercial diving team, were able to deploy the submarine cable link in just three hours with additional work to connect up the fibre cable to the existing network completed in a week. Engineers from BT’s local network business, Openreach, then made the link to a roadside, fibre broadband cabinet serving 119 premises in Far Sawrey, which is now live and accepting customer orders.

IMG_0963Glenn, whose cabling team have also helped link up the Isles of Scilly and Scottish Highlands and Islands via submarine cables, explained how the team attached a large cable drum to the barge attached to a hydraulic system to pay out the cable as the craft crossed the lake from West to East. It followed a route just south of the lake’s chain ferry crossing – linking up the Windermere exchange on one side of the lake with the fibre cabinet serving the village on the other.

He said: “For rivers and estuaries, the job is easier because we can take vessels to a site, but with a body of water that is land-locked we have to improvise. The cable is laid straight onto the lake bed – it weighs about six kilos per metre so sinks pretty quickly and will self-bury into the sediments over time. Once the installation is done the divers swim out and check the cable to ensure it is secure and not snagged on anything.”

Far Sawrey, famous for its association with world renowned children’s writer Beatrix Potter, is just one of the latest communities to be enabled with fibre broadband across Cumbria’s national park. The village is neighbour to Near Sawrey where the author lived, with a number of sites in both villages featuring in her books.

David Southward, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet member responsible for economic development, said:  “The Lake District is the UK’s largest National Park, with over 40,000 residents and more than 16 million visitors a year,  fibre broadband is becoming a ‘must have’ for our communities and businesses to thrive.

“Tourism – perhaps more than any other sector in Cumbria – is hugely dependent on digital technology for web-based marketing, on-line booking and customer contact and many tourism businesses regard higher speed connections as crucial to the future of their business. So it is great to see Connecting Cumbria doing everything it can to reach these homes and businesses however small or remote they may be.”

Cllr Graham Vincent, South Lakeland District Council’s economy portfolio holder, said: “I am delighted for the Far Sawrey community, this will provide a vital boost to both local people and businesses. Broadband is vital for business growth in this modern digital age – and small rural areas like Far Sawrey will now be able to communicate with clients up and down the country.”

Mike Blackburn, BT North West regional director, added: “Bringing fibre to rural areas like Cumbria involves major challenges and getting fibre across England’s largest natural lake is a prime example of our determination to make fibre broadband as widely available as possible.”

Since October 2013, the Connecting Cumbria project – a partnership between Cumbria County Council and BT – has enabled more than 550 fibre broadband cabinets across the county, with more being switched on every day. Over 120,000 Cumbrian households and businesses now have access to fibre as a result of the project.

Together with BT’s commercial programme, nearly 220,000 homes and businesses have access to the fibre network in Cumbria.

When an area has gone ‘live’ for fibre, people need to contact their service provider to upgrade as it doesn’t happen automatically. Because the network is ‘open’, they have a wide choice of fibre broadband providers.

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