10 Years Since… B4RN’s First Customers Went Live
November 7th, 2022
Author: Mark Gray
Posted In: Latest news
We’ve been to meet some of B4RN’s first customers, who went live with B4RN hyperfast broadband in Quernmore just over a decade ago – on 1st October 2012.
Thanks to a determined band of volunteers, the fibre was lit for 13 properties – becoming the first ever customers to benefit from B4RN’s gigabit full fibre broadband network.
We now serve more than 11,000 customers across B4RN’s rural network.
All but one of those customers has remained with B4RN to this day! We’re very grateful to them for letting us come into their homes to reminisce:
How was your previous broadband?
“We just had copper wire broadband for the first year, which was terrible! If we wanted to watch a downloaded movie, it would take 3 or 4 hours to download, you’d start in the afternoon to watch that night!”
What do you remember about the installation and the volunteers?
“Well, we moved in here 11 years ago, so it coincides with that.
“It was great fun, actually. Bruce [Alexander] and I dug the trench from the field, under the fence, and across the garden. Chris Conder came and did the fibre connection. It all went pretty smoothly.
“It had a pioneering feel about it. Everybody mucking in to help out. Enthusiastic volunteers.”
How has the B4RN service been through the years?
“Excellent. Absolutely excellent. The customer service has been great.
“A couple of weeks ago I put in a new mesh system, I never really noticed how many devices are connected to it – about twenty. Even the cooker! It’s amazing!
“I’ve no incentive to move away from B4RN. It’s a good price, great customer service. And you feel part of it in a way, a sense of ownership, being part of the community.”
What do you recall about getting B4RN?
“I was amazed when you said it was 10 years, to be honest. It’s back before I packed up with work.
“I did the digging of the garden. I remember putting the main ducting in the field, too. We made [the volunteers] bacon butties! Blowing the fibre through was just amazing. They were down at the tennis courts and suddenly a few little sponges and this fibre pops out!”
And how has the service been through the years?
“When it first started we thought ‘what’s the back-up going to be like?’ Well, the back-up’s been fantastic… but we’ve hardly needed it!”
Jim’s grown-up children live away. He says he’s had fewer problems than them: “We frequently video call them and if it slows down the problem is always at their end. Our son’s in Edinburgh – a big city – and we’re in the back end of nowhere. But when we do the speedchecks it’s always him with the slow broadband!”
Did you believe in the B4RN ethos?
“Absolutely, yes. We invested to help it along. [We thought] if they could get something going that was completely local it would be superb.”
Jim’s wife, who didn’t want to be named, then chipped in: “The good thing about it is [your money] is not going to a commercial operator. You’re getting good value for what you’re paying. I do my work on the internet and it’s been really reliable. I don’t begrudge it going to a local firm.”
Do you remember the job of installing B4RN?
“When you mentioned it to me I had to go to the neighbours to confirm it’s been a decade! It’s hard to believe ten years have flown by.
“I remember Bruce putting the box on the wall. And I remember clearly helping my neighbour dig out quite a big part of his back garden to get the cables under. The cables were then laid through the courtyard before being brought to individual properties.”
What did you make of B4RN as a whole?
“I thought it was impressive. The way we got it up and running and working very quickly. Even though it was a lot of hard work it all came together really well.
“I like to support local companies. I had my own in Lancaster. And it’s important – if you can – to support your local community and companies. Keeps the work local, doesn’t it?”
How has the B4RN service been?
“It’s been good, I’ve only had one problem and they soon got me back up and running again. When you’re used to it and it goes down, it really is difficult.
“To me, B4RN was a godsend. It came at a time I was winding down from working at the office in Lancaster and bringing work home. It did assist quite a lot.”
What do you recollect about your B4RN installation?
“It actually seems longer ago! I can’t remember the days we had to wait ages for anything to come through. We were on about 2Mbps. We couldn’t stream TV or music.
“We really only dealt with Bruce. He told us the best way to do it and in those days you did it yourself! Bruce was great, always very helpful.
“It was a leap of faith to go with B4RN in those early years. But there was no alternative. It wasn’t really a big decision.”
Did you believe in the B4RN ethos?
“100%. We’ve had commercial operators sniffing round… they can go and sling their hook!
“I think B4RN’s a great concept. I’ve told lots of people about it. For the community, by the community, with the community. I don’t think you can get better than that.”
How have you used the B4RN service down the years?
“I’ve got Tidal [a music streaming service] now, so I can listen to all the music I like at really high-quality. I like my music, so that’s important. Because we have TV reception problems, we very rarely watch scheduled television – everything is streamed.”
You were a little more involved with B4RN, weren’t you?
“I bought this property in 1999 as a derelict barn. I always wanted to do a build. I tried to make it as usefully high-tech as possible. But when we finished, we only had a copper link with barely basic broadband, which was frustrating.
“And then I came across a leaflet from Barry [Forde] and Chris [Conder]. I went to a meeting up at the hall where Barry explained the company: putting internet in, digging fibre to the house. Sounded fantastic!
“I got on the B4RN committee. Can’t say I did a tremendous amount but I offered as much support as I could. I feel glad to have contributed in a minor way. I think it’s fantastic. The philosophy is ideal.”
What did you make of the people at B4RN?
“I have huge admiration for them both [Barry & Chris]. Barry’s foresight and dogged determination to push this through. You were just dealing with luddites who thought ‘it’s BT/Openreach or nothing’. Chris equally, her zeal getting people on board and ability to get people to do things and help out.”
What do you remember of the B4RN installation?
“I hired a digger and planned out how to get fibre round the site to my neighbours. This house had conduiting underneath. For the rest, we used the surface water drainage to access them.
“It was absolutely phenomenal when we got connected. It really was a gigabit connection. It made a massive difference.”
How do you use the B4RN service?
“I have become a bit of a tech geek. I’ve got my own VPN setup so I’ve got used to taking my work around the country. I used to travel round the country and I didn’t have to carry my vital information with me, just tap into my VPN. I’ve also got CCTV around the house and a Roomba [robot vacuum cleaner].
“It is a wonderful service. I have enjoyed spending the last ten years telling people I have one of the fastest internet connections in the world.”
B4RN – Enabling Remote Healthcare
Tim also outlined why fast internet is important to the rapidly changing world of remote healthcare:
“I’m a pathologist. A rare breed. I specialise in brains. We are not always around when, for example, somebody might be having an operation in Preston. They might want an intra-operative diagnosis… taking a bit of tissue out and putting it on a glass slide. I’m here at home, half an hour away on a good day.
“One technology we’re starting to use in pathology is distance reporting. We have a system installed at Preston which allows you to take a glass slide and put it under a high-quality optical scanner and that goes onto a server which I can link into from home. So they can call me and say [this patient’s] smears are ready, could you have a look at it. So I can look at these 500Mb sized files. This is simply not possible on slower connections. And of course, this is potentially global – these slides could be from Africa rather than Preston.
“I think that’s a very pertinent point. B4RN is enabling technologies to work from home which are improving healthcare and access to healthcare.”
B4RN Director, Chris Carr, added: “The comments of the earliest of the adopters of the B4RN network capture exactly the reasons why everyone who is, or has been, associated with the growth and spread of our fabulous network should feel a deep sense of satisfaction in their involvement in this unique and ground-breaking enterprise.
“Although my own involvement with B4RN goes back only nine years, the sense of achievement in having been part of something which will benefit not just those of us around today, but those of future generations too, will be with me forever. Many people have asked ‘what is the secret of the success of B4RN’? The reasons for B4RN’s success lie in the driving commitment of the early volunteers and the powerful effects of harnessing the engagement of the communities which wanted to receive B4RN’s service.
“These testimonies from the very first people to be able to enjoy the benefits of the fastest rural broadband in the world are as true today as they were then!”