A December 2023 Update from David Kirk
For about 7 years, Wreningham has been largely served by “Fibre To The Cabinet” (FTTC) broadband. This is an OpenReach service which radiates broadband from the two sets of green cabinets – one next to the school’s main entrance and the other near the Top Row noticeboard. Typically, most properties (broadly) within the Wreningham 30mph zone can receive about 30Mbps broadband – with those closer to the cabinets achieving more. Beyond this area its performance tapers off. A variety of retail suppliers can provide their own telephone and broadband services over this OpenReach network.
The weak link in the current FTTC system is the copper “telephone” wires which link the OpenReach green cabinets to village properties. Over time, buried copper cable degrades and much of Wreningham’s village telephone cabling has been in the ground – sometimes very wet ground(!), for many tens of years. Telephone cabling was never designed for broadband technology so it’s amazing that it works so well. However, maintaining this aging infrastructure has provided an ongoing challenge.
Direct Fibre (Fibre To The Property, FTTP)
For over 10 years an increasing number of telecommunication companies have been building direct fibre infrastructure in competition to the traditional OpenReach telephone/broadband network – with digital services running directly to the home. (Virgin Media significantly pre-dated this all of this, when they repurposed their original coaxial copper Cable TV network to carry internet services.) Initially, all these competing services were built in larger urban areas. In recent years a growing numbers of direct fibre suppliers have emerged – and building in rural areas, too! “Direct fibre” is a system which completely removes copper from the transmission process. The fibre is much more durable than copper with an extremely long life. The light signals which travel along it are digital and do not suffer the signal losses of copper; importantly for many consumers, the inherently higher bandwidth permits huge increases in data traffic. In short, for the average consumer, these new generation “direct fibre” systems are largely “future-proof”.
Direct Fibre in Wreningham
To date, two telecommunication companies have offered to provide Wreningham with Direct Fibre. The first was County Broadband who, back in early 2021 told us that if 25% of potential customers accepted the principle of taking their service, they would come and fibre-up the whole village within 12-18 months. Hence, (as they said) the commitment towards their company would need to last for precisely that period. They reached their 25% target in January 2022 and in Summer 2023, they set out an imminent plan to commence installation work in Wreningham. However, shortly afterwards, they announced to the City of London that they would be “pausing” all new construction – which includes Wreningham – so they have not started installation here. Perhaps they never will?
A new company made its presence known in this area, Gigaclear. In fact, Gigaclear is a larger and more mature company, having started up in 2010. They have steadily created a very large presence in the southern half of rural England – claiming to currently pass nearly one third of a million rural homes. In mid-2023, Gigaclear started their South Norfolk installation works in Long Stratton and are rapidly expanding outwards from there. Their Long Stratton direct fibre service is expected to “go live” in early 2024 – and we have been told that Wreningham is in their sights. We expect to hear more about Gigaclear’s Wreningham plan during 2024.
In the meantime, OpenReach has provided direct fibre to a dozen of Wreningham 250 properties. First via a government funded scheme for connecting schools which addressed Wreningham School and also 7 nearby properties (possibly because OpenReach sometimes does fibre connections in minimum batches of 8!). Second, the more recent housing developments in Wreningham have received subsidised direct fibre connections.
Will OpenReach ever lay a village-wide direct fibre network in Wreningham? In theory it should not be difficult and could be carried out quite quickly. However, Wreningham does not appear to be an OpenReach priority, indeed there is no guarantee Wreningham will appear on their installation plans.
So, we know of three companies which have the potential to bring us a village-wide broadband solution – but, none are quite there yet. Let’s see what 2024 brings!