Full Fibre Arrives In UK’s Most Remote Inhabited Island

People living on Fair Isle, the UK’s most geographically remote inhabited island, have received a significant connectivity improvement.

Openreach has delivered to the islanders full fibre broadband, thanks in part to funding from the Scottish Government’s R100 programme, as well as the UK Government.

The delivery of the fibre broadband is an achievement for the UK carrier, as it is the longest distance (112 kilometres or 70 miles) Openreach has been able to transmit a continuous full fibre signal anywhere in the UK.

Openreach engineers visit homes on Fair Isle to install new full fibre broadband.
Image credit Openreach/R100

Fair Isle connection

Fair Isle is situated halfway between the Orkney and Shetland Islands.

Openreach began the fibre cable from a central distribution point (or headend), in the Lerwick Exchange on the Shetland Islands. It then passes through a repeater in Sumburgh (also on the Shetland Islands), 37km away, which amplifies the light signal.

That allows the spur line to travel to its destination in Fair Isle, more than 75km away, using the new subsea fibre cable between Shetland and the island.

As the fibre lands ashore on Fair Isle, it is connected into a Sub-tended Headend (SHE) which in turn boosts the optical signal out into the local community.

This provides all 51 occupied premises on the island with ultrafast broadbands speeds. Previously, the islanders had to make do with a meagre 0.5Mbps connection.

Openreach engineers installing new full fibre broadband connections on Fair Isle.
Image credit Openreach/R100

A post office and shop on Fair Isle are among businesses which are already connected and all premises on the island can now order the service.

The project has been funded through the Scottish Government’s £404m Reaching 100% (R100) North contract, as well as £17.4 million from the UK Government.

Signal strength

Openreach said it believed the achievement of connecting Fair Isle to be a world first, as the carrier had to “deploy innovative engineering to boost the signal strength” due to the distance between the islands.

“I am delighted that we have achieved digital connectivity for Fair Isle almost two years earlier than planned,” said wellbeing economy secretary Neil Gray of the Scottish government. “Through our R100 commitment to tackle some of the hardest to access terrain in the country, we are improving the educational and life opportunities available to young people across Scotland. This innovative step forward for engineering ensures children on Fair Isle are not left behind.”

“Internet speeds rivalling the best in the country are helping create a more attractive place for families and young people to live,” said Gray.

“We are a small population and want to grow and encourage people to be a part of our community,” added Postmistress Fiona Mitchell, of the Stackhoull Stores and Post Office that was connected to full fibre before Christmas.

Stackhoull Stores and Fair Isle Post Mistress, Fiona Mitchell, is pleased with her new full fibre broadband connection.
Image credit Openreach/R100

“Getting a full fibre connection so that people can more easily work and live here is a major part of that,” said Mitchell. “We need all hands on deck to make the island run.”

Creative engineering

“Regular fibre signals just couldn’t go the distance, so we had to get creative with some world first engineering to transmit life-changing ultrafast broadband over 100 kilometres to islanders,” said Openreach chief engineer for Scotland Fraser Rowberry.

“We had to do everything differently on Fair Isle, from planning around bird nesting seasons to setting up flat-packed cabins for our crew,” said Rowberry. “A big shout-out to the people of Fair Isle for being so welcoming to our team. They’ve been amazing.”

“Now, they’re connected to the world in a whole new way,” said Rowberry. “This will make Fair Isle an even better place to be – for residents, visitors and future generations – and we’d encourage people on the island to upgrade to full fibre.”

In October 2022, two cables connecting the British mainland to the Shetland and Faroe Islands were repaired after they were damaged.

Police had declared a major incident after the subsea cable connecting the Shetland Isles to the UK mainland was damaged – severing telephone and internet communications.

A second cable connecting the mainland to Shetland and the Faroe Islands had also been damaged a week earlier.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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