BT rolls out fibre to Scottish Highlands

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Digital Scotland has announced the completion of a subsea telecoms project which brings fibre broadband another step closer for many of Scotland’s most remote communities. 

The £410m Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project required the installation of 250 miles of fibre optic cabling across a record-breaking 20 seabed crossings in one of the most complex sub-sea engineering challenges ever undertaken by BT in UK waters.

Brendan Dick, BT Scotland director said: ‘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. 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.’

The project covers 40 island and mainland locations, stretching from Orkney to Kintyre, which form essential links for a massive fibre network being built to bring high-speed fibre broadband to 84 per cent of the Highlands and Islands by the end of 2016. 

The Digital Scotland rollout consists of two projects – one covering the Highlands and Islands area and the other covering the rest of Scotland, with more than 750,000 premises to benefit across the country. The Digital Highlands and Islands project is being led in the region by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), with funding partners the Scottish Government, Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), HIE itself and private sector company BT, which is also delivering the contract on the ground. 

HIE’s director of regional development Carroll Buxton commented: ‘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. 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 £26.9m subsea project is part of the £146m Digital Highlands and Islands rollout which will make faster, more reliable services available to more than 150,000 premises across the region’s mainly rural communities for the first time. 

BT expects to deploy widespread fibre to the cabinet, which offers broadband speeds of up to 80Mbps and some Fibre to the Premises. During the life of the project, BT and HIE will also be assessing new and emerging technology options through a £2.5 million Innovation Fund, with a view to extending faster broadband to the most remote places in the Highlands and Islands. 

The first island communities to connect directly as a result of the new subsea links will go live during Spring next year. Local people will have access to fibre broadband speeds of up to 80Mbps, around ten times faster than the current top speeds available on most Scottish islands, many of which are currently connected by radio links. 

UK Government Digital Economies Minster Ed Vaizey said: ‘An additional 150,000 Scottish homes and businesses can now access superfast broadband as a result of our nationwide rollout so far, and we’re reaching an additional 40,000 premises across the UK every week. 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.’ 

Ronnie Quinn, Scotland lead on Energy and Infrastructure at The Crown Estate, said: ‘It's great to see such a significant phase of this project being completed, taking remote communities and businesses one step closer to being connected. From our work with the islands and across remote areas of Scotland we know that this project has the potential to deliver lasting benefits in those areas. The project’s smooth and speedy progress is a real success story for all those involved.’

The Highlands and Islands project is laying more than 500 miles of new land fibre backbone to complement BT’s existing fibre network, as well as hundreds more to create the local access which brings services to homes and businesses.

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