Students inspect and test cables as project brings ultrafast broadband rollout to life

Sixth form students at the Ron Dearing University Technical College (UTC) have been tasked with inspecting and testing the science behind KCOM’s ultrafast fibre broadband network.

KCOM is one of the employer-led school’s Founding Partners and has rolled out its Lightstream service to its customers in Hull and the surrounding area.

The Hull-based IT and communications company has rolled out 11,000,000m of fibre cable – enough to stretch around the Moon – to reach customers in its network and each cable needs to be joined at appropriate intersections using a process called splicing.

A process called “fusion splicing” involves heating the fibre cables up to 4,000C, at which point the fibres then join, and splicing the cables is critical to ensuring KCOM maintains excellent customer service.

Ron Dearing UTC Sixth form students have been learning about the rollout of KCOM’s ultrafast fibre broadband network in one of the school’s employer-led projects.

As part of the project brief, KCOM invited 22 Year 12 and 13 engineering and digital technology students in as consultants to see how they’d approach the delicate process.

They visited KCOM’s Lighthouse demonstration facility at its Salvesen Way offices in Hull, which provides an insight into how the telecommunications industry has evolved over the past 100 years. The Lighthouse brings to life the science behind fibre broadband networks, from the equipment at the local telephone exchange all the way to the customer’s router at home.

The students were then tasked with manufacturing spliced cable joints, continuing the project in school.

They then had to report how they could use inspection and testing methods, as well as processes, to identify issues during the joint installations, and during the manufacture of the components, to reduce the number of low-quality spliced joints.

Dan Howard, Assistant Principal for Employer Engagement at Ron Dearing UTC, said: “The students were taught how to fusion splice, which is the welding together of fibre optic cables. They then did this in school and had to inspect and test the joints, and assess how it all works.

“Key to the project is gaining hands-on experience of working alongside the KCOM staff, who do this on a daily basis, and the engineers who go out into the field. Learning from them brings it all to life.”

The challenge is one of many technically-complex projects set by Ron Dearing UTC’s Founding Partners, which aim to inspire and educate students as they progress through their learning journey.

Simon Lucas, KCOM’s Head of IT Service Operations, said: “It was fantastic to welcome students from Ron Dearing UTC to give them an insight into how we work and why engineering is such an important and rewarding career.

“As a Hull-based company it’s vitally important that we are creating the next generation of engineers and digital professionals with the skills to help not only KCOM, but the whole local economy thrive.

“It’s great that Ron Dearing UTC is inspiring young people with the skills needed to prosper and make Hull a leading tech hub for the 21st Century.”