Drone testing facility to develop new technology approved

Openreach will train drone pilots at their revamped facility in Brightwell, near BT's Adastral Park

Openreach will train drone pilots at their revamped facility in Brightwell, near BT's Adastral Park Picture: OPENREACH - Credit: Archant

Openreach’s plans to revamp a site near BT’s Adastral Park to test new telecommunications drones have been given the green light.

The broadband firm submitted proposals to East Suffolk Council in April to overhaul an area on its site at Brightwell, just outside of Ipswich.

The site currently houses several haulage containers and small buildings, with the scheme seeking permission to construct a new mock-up street containing facilities to develop new technology.

Openreach’s plans included building an innovation centre, providing a showcase and training area on the ground as well as hospitality and meeting space on the upper floors.

The mock street - dubbed ‘Openstreet’ - would allow Openreach to test internet connections and installation techniques.

It described the proposals for the site, around 500m south of Adastral Park, as having a “forward thinking” design and would play a “key role in unearthing and developing the next generation of broadband technology”.

After East Suffolk approved the application, Openreach confirmed they will use the revamped facilities to train drone pilots - with the devices used to deliver broadband where vehicles cannot get to.

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Redevelopment work is set to begin soon, though Openreach said the coronavirus lockdown meant some parts of the new facility could be delayed.

Andy Whale, chief engineer at Openreach, said: “Our Brightwell site is currently used for some of the UK’s leading testing of network developments.

“But we want to widen this out and make it a real focal point for everything that Openreach does around innovation and collaboration.

“We see it as somewhere we can get together as a business to work on new things, test future products, join forces with our suppliers to try out ideas, and even involve the local community so they feel an important part of our work.

“Central to the plan is a drone training area, which will be a first for Openreach, and critical to making sure our drone operators get the training and skills needed to do this increasingly important role.

“Using drones to build the network is something fairly new to our chief engineer team, but a really useful option when we’re faced with hostile terrain or a difficult area to cover.”

MORE: Openreach hope proposed new facilities near Ipswich will help develop next generation technology

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