Massive Undersea Cable Project Brings Fibre Closer To Scottish Highlands And Islands

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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BT lays 250 miles of subsea cables as part of government assisted rollout of superfast broadband in Scotland

The government-assisted rollout of superfast broadband in the highlands and islands of Scotland has taken a major step forward today with the completion of the most complex subsea cable operation ever undertaken by BT in UK waters.

The company has laid 250 miles of fibre across 20 separate seabed crossing in Scotland as part of the £146 million Digital Highlands and Islands project, one of two components of the £410 million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband initiative which has received funding from Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).

Work on the subsea operation started in July with the 14,000 tonne ship Rene Descartes burying double-armoured cable across the 20 locations.

Island hopping

BDUK BT Highlands and Islands 2The longest cable route is the 50 miles between Ullapool to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, with the shortest the one mile between Ardgour on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula and Onich, south of Fort William. Orkney, Skye, Mull and are among the other islands to be connected.

“This has been the most complex subsea project BT has tackled in UK waters, as well as being the largest number of seabed cables laid in a single weather window,” said Brendan Dick, BT Scotland director. “I’m so proud of the endeavour shown by the whole team to overcome the technical and environmental challenges.

“This underwater spider’s web of fibre optic cables is set to deliver a seismic shift in communications for Scotland’s island communities, bringing them in closer touch with the rest of the world than ever before.”

More than 30,000 premises in Moray, Highland, Shetland and Argyll have already benefited from the Highlands and Island rollout, and it is expected that 150,000 properties will eventually be connected, receiving superfast broadband for the first time. Fibre offers speeds of up to 80 Mbps – as much as ten times the fastest currently available in these remote communities, many of which are connected by a radio link.

Once in a lifetime

Now that the subsea operation has been completed, the project will now focus on expanding the land network to deliver superfast services to homes and businesses. Once the project is completed, more than 500 miles of fibre backbone will have been laid, along with hundreds more to create the local access network.

Local leaders and government officials say this “once in a generation” project will transform the lives of highlanders and islanders.

BDUK BT Highlands and Islands 4“Completion of the subsea cabling work is a crucial step in building a network which will dramatically change access to technology across our region for decades to come,” said Carroll Buxton, Highlands and Islands Enterprise director of regional development. “This is a legacy network for the Highlands and Islands and for Scotland, opening up next generation broadband for homes and businesses whether they are in urban, or remote and rural Scotland.”

“The completion of the subsea work is a major milestone which will mean that island communities are not left behind as we continue to transform the digital landscape of Scotland,” added Ed Vaizey, UK Government Digital Economies Minster.

In total, 150,000 properties in Scotland have been added thanks to the government funded rollout of fibre in the country, with 1.4 million premises now capable of receiving Internet services from the BT Openreach network. It is expected that Digital Scotland will eventually ensure fibre is available to 95 percent of the Scottish population by 2017, including 84 percent of the Highlands and Islands. An additional £2.5 million has been set aside to expand this reach using alternative technologies.

Another ambitious undersea cabling project was completed earlier this year, bringing superfast broadband to the Isles of Scilly. BT and superfast Cornwall redirected an unused 939km connection between the UK and Spain towards the archipelago, residents of which can now take advantage of faster speeds.

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