Preparing to put fibre over Forth

Continuous glass fibres to be blown across Forth Road Bridge

Image credit: Openreach Scotland

Openreach Scotland is to use the Forth Road Bridge to bring fibre-optic internet access to South Queensferry. Engineers will use an air compressor to blow a 3km-long glass fibre across the Firth of Forth.

The famous suspension bridge connects Edinburgh (via South Queensferry) and Fife (via North Queensferry) across the Forth. Having been used for car crossings since it opened in 1964, it will soon be used for the transmission of data at gigabit speeds to thousands of residents in South Queensferry.

This week, Openreach Scotland engineers will use a giant air compressor to blow a continuous stretch of glass fibre at speeds of up to 1m/s. The 16mm fibre cable will contain 432 glass fibres, each a tenth the thickness of a human hair. A further 2km of fibre cable has already been built north of the bridge, linking the network to a fibre hub in Inverkeithing, Fife.

“This is a unique moment for civil engineering in Scotland as two huge infrastructure projects come together,” said Katie Milligan, chair of Openreach Scotland. “We’re building a new ultrafast digital highway, and going across the Forth Road Bridge is the fastest, most direct way to get it done.

“It’s impossible to join up spans of fibre on the bridge, so it has to be done in one long piece. It’s amazing to think that these tiny fibres will future-proof the internet for thousands of homes and businesses on the south side of the bridge for decades to come.

“This is a once-in-a-generation engineering task to make broadband fit for the future, and we’re proud to be literally bridging the digital divide across this iconic landmark.”

This challenging step of the fibre rollout has been six months in the planning. For the past two weeks, Openreach staff have been working in enclosed steel tunnels beneath the bridge’s footpaths to prepare ducting pipes for the cable. Meanwhile, work on the network has already begun in South Queensferry.

“As we saw during lockdown, good connectivity reduces pressures on our road network, and can cut emissions, by giving many Scots the ability to work where they live,” Milligan added. “It’s great to see the iconic Forth Road Bridge play a part in a new, digital era which, like the bridge itself, will serve Scotland for generations.”

Chris Tracey, south east bridges unit manager at BEAR Scotland, which looks after the road bridges, said: “We were pleased to facilitate safe access on the Forth Road Bridge for Openreach to carry out this major upgrade, and we look forward to the benefits it will bring to local residents and businesses.”

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