Drones and Fishing Lines Are Bringing Broadband to Remote Villages

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Like the US, many remote and rural parts of the UK lack access to high speed internet. But unlike the states, one of the biggest barriers comes down to topology: they just literally can’t get the wires to reach across the rocky hills and valleys. But thanks to a little ingenuity, a drone, some fishing line, and a tennis ball, that’s no longer a problem for one UK company.

Andy Whale, the chief engineer at Openreach, a UK company that builds telecom infrastructure, told me that in many of these remote areas, the gap between the nearest connection point and residents is periled with wide, raging rivers, deep valleys, and steep, rocky cliffs. Going underground is usually not an option, he said: the roads in the area are rustic, or non-existent and the ground is often slate. All of this makes the logistics of safely stringing a fiber optic cable from one access point to a village extremely complicated.

But a few months ago, while discussing a particularly tricky valley that separated one village from an access point, one of Whale’s technicians came up with the idea of using a drone to fly the cable across the valley. They decided to test it out, and even designed a 3D-printed tool to help the drone get the job done.

“We ended up attaching, literally, a fishing rod to the drone, and flying the drone out to where the other telephone pole was,” Whale told me.

The fishing line was rigged with a tennis ball, which the drone dropped to sink the fishing line at the right spot. They then used the line to pull a rope back across the valley, which they then used to pull the fiber across and voila! The two telephone poles on either side of the valley were connected with high speed fiber optic cable in less than 20 minutes. They’ve since used the technique multiple times and have jobs lined up where they were specifically asked to use the drones.

“The job, I thought, would be a few hours at least, mucking around with it,” Whale said. “But it actually works incredibly quickly. It’s not a gimmick. It’s given us capability we hadn’t had before, and the good thing about it is it’s very safe.”

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