When I received the call and message on the blog last year about an alternative to our satellite broadband from Alison Macleod, local development officer of the Applecross Community Company I was quite excited at the prospect of a faster, more reliable and cheaper alternative to http://www.qsat.ie/ . We did have pretty reliable and usable service before from http://www.avantiplc.com/ but without any consultation we were ‘migrated’ to Niall Quinn’s company without choice and the service went down the toilet.
Most issues have since been resolved and we get a reasonable 15gB monthly allowance, acceptable upload and download speeds and a pretty reliable service. However a teenager in the house has meant that once or twice we’ve gone over the 15gb and been ‘throttled’. This would not be a problem if the service was just slow, that I can cope with, but apart from the ‘internet like treacle’ it is impossible to access email, and that I cannot cope with.
The service that was being mooted for Applecross, who like me had little alternative other than satellite was wireless based and had its roots in the ‘Tegola project’ that I’d read about some years ago http://www.tegola.org.uk/ . Pioneered by professor Peter Buneman of Edinburgh University it used a network of powered antennas and relay stations to give reliable and fast broadband via ‘line of site’. The ‘Master’ would be at a place which already had acceptable broadband and the ‘slaves’ anywhere that was wirelessly visible from the directional dish placed on the ‘backhaul’ master station. In effect the system could attain speeds of up to 18meg but few exchanges up here are capable of half that.
The Tegola Project
At the same time that Avanti were rolling out their network, trials of a much faster and more reliable wireless distribution system were taking place a little further north in Loch Hourn. Prof. Peter Buneman of Edinburgh University was demonstrating that if fast ‘backhaul’ (trunk-line broadband access) were available, it was perfectly possible, using the more reliable and advanced equipment that was by now on the market, to distribute this round rural communities. His project is fully described at http://www.tegola.org.uk/ . In early 2010 Peter heard that folk on Eigg were dissatisfied with the cost and speed of the Avanti scheme, and were keen to find an improvement.
A quote from http://hebnet.co.uk/index.html who’s site gives a far better explanation than I
Anyway, a long time passed, Applecross got their first ‘backhaul’ set up at Broadford village hall and phase one (the pilot phase to 9 or 10 properties) was by all accounts a great success. However this only delivered broadband to subscribers that could ‘see’ Broadford or any of the other slave stations and I believe the funding had run out. However, twelve months on, thanks to the http://www.villagesos.org.uk/ Big lottery fund, ‘phase two’ is going ahead http://www.hie.co.uk/community-support/community-broadband-scotland/cbsprojects/applecross-community-company.html and this is where ‘yours truly’ comes in Phase two needs a powered station at the north end of Raasay to use the Aros centre in Portree as the ‘backhaul’ http://www.aros.co.uk/ . Now I may not know anything about computers or the internet but what I do have is a power supply more reliable than the National Grid and years of experience in laying cables and pipe over the north end of Raasay
Anyway, I’d kind of forgotten about all this and ‘put it on the backburner’ until recently when I was contacted again by Alison, Simon Helliwell and Ian Bolas who are all heavily involved in the project. A site for a mast was chosen, the various permissions granted and before I knew it I’d 1000m of 1.5mm square SWA cable in my trailer.
The original plan being for me to lay the first 500m from my power supply (bottom left) to North Arnish (centre), the bits for the small mast and second 500m drum being dropped by helicopter on top of the hill top right. However, despite PDG http://www.pdghelicopters.com/about-us.html reasonable quote of £1600 for doing a ‘lift’ from Arnish to the top of that hill it was a lot of money Fair enough I suppose with our ‘risk averse’ culture in these hard times, helicopters are exceedingly expensive things to keep in the air and must earn their keep. Anyway it was felt that a few strong bodies could do the job and leave more in the budget for other stuff.
So, this morning, on a day that can only be described as ‘perfect midge’ weather I doused myself in Smidge and ‘set forth’ not initially on a cable laying mission but to grease up the opposite wheel bearing on my trailer to the one that failed yesterday
Then I removed the 1250lt fuel tank given me by the Quarryman and cleaned it out, this is going to be Harry’s new tank up at the barn site.
Once the trailer was back on its wheels and the tank removed I made a ramp up to the Honda’s rear carrier using one of the trailer sides with some ratchet straps to hold it in place. Each 500m reel weighs 150kg so it needed careful manoeuvring up there.
and once securely lashed to the ‘50kg max’ rear carrier
I blew up the tyre
The Honda TRX quad and its derivatives have to be the best on the planet, I’ve owned and used them all, Kawasaki’s, Suzuki’s, Yamaha’s and of course that piece of Chinese carp the Quadzilla. They are all good apart from the Chinese offering which biodegrades faster than a cow pat, the Honda however is in a league of its own when it comes to taking abuse.
I kid you not, these machines are ‘bombproof’, even before I was given this machine some years ago it had had nine years of abuse, been stuck in bogs the sea, used with three wheels and struck by lightning!!!!!!
Anyway, this ‘incident’ convinced me that I should reverse all the way up the steep hill to North Arnish, 150kg plus driver makes them a little light on the front end.
Once I’d turned around, found a smaller ditch and approached it obliquely the rest of the journey upwards past ‘Donald’s barn’ and the old Post Office was quite uneventful and I stopped the quad at what I thought would be the 500m mark from the chalet.
Tipping the reel off the carrier I took note of the marking on the cable and tied it off on the back of the quad.
Laying SWA cable
Now with all my renewable energy projects I’ve learnt a thing or two about laying cable and the general rule is, there are no hard and fast rules, well there are but every job is different depending on the terrain and cable length. Fifty and even one hundred meter lengths are child’s play, you simply make up a holder and pull it off the drum, however as the lengths increase so does the weight and its problems. Sure you can still pull it off the drum with a quad or winch but as the tension increases the cable starts to twist due to the way the SWA (steel wire armour) is wound and this leads to kinks. You can lay very long lengths by pulling it off the drum 40 or 50m at a time and flaking it out flat on the ground but this is impossible amongst trees and undergrowth.
As this first section from North Arnish to the chalet power cable was nearly all down hill I opted for the ‘rolling method’ but this is done in the opposite direction to what you would think. A reel this size and weight cannot be rolled out ‘yo yo’ fashion so to speak as it is too heavy to ‘slip’, not only that but it could run away with you and end up in a tangled heap. The drum must be rolled the ‘wrong way’ as in the picture with each turn being taken off opposite sides to stop it kinking. You can do say six one way and six the other as you would with fence wire but my counting is rubbish so I just do it alternately ‘left and right’
Downhill it’s a ‘piece of cake’ and you know you’re not going to have the drum run away on you, here it is at 100, 200 and 300m respectively as I sweated like a pig in my waterproofs surrounded by flies
The 400m mark came just by the ruins of 2 and 4 South Arnish but by now it was lunch time, I was soaked to the skin, hungry and sweating so heavily that my Smidge was starting to come off.
After a cup of tea, some chocolate and a change of clothes I enlisted some help
and got the last 100m laid, including some ducting over the burn.
And that is all the cable that was left on the drum!!! literally 2m to spare, skill or luck I’ve not got a clue
All I had to do was walk back up to North Arnish for the Honda and start again
This time things didn’t go quite so smoothly
and I ended up stuck in the drain. I could have easily extricated myself by removing the 150kg roll of SWA but then I’d have had to lift it back on the Honda. Much easier to get Wifey, the Yamaha and a block & tackle.
Once she’d pulled me out of the ditch I reversed the Honda all the way up to the other end of the cable and left it there. The plan being to enlist the Dude on Saturday, take up the Yamaha, strap a scaffolding bar between the two quads and pull the cable off by hand, I guess about 100m at a time then cut it. One hundred metres of cable is 30kg so probably easy enough to drag through wet heather, watch this space to find out
That’s it really, we’re a step closer to superfast broadband, I changed my underwear three times today, due to sweat and not ‘brown trousers’ I hasten to add and now I’m off to bed. This is the life, I’m pure wrecked and feel like I’ve actually lost a few pounds and achieved something at the same time.