BT installs ‘record-breaking’ broadband network across Scottish Highlands

BT has installed fibre optic cables across a record-breaking 20 seabed crossings as it works to bring superfast broadband to the Scottish Highlands.

The telecoms giant hailed the 26.9 million operation as the most complex underwater engineering challenge it has ever undertaken, which forms part of the 410 million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband scheme.

Members of the programme are celebrating the successful installation in the island of Millport today, after work started in July to establish a fibre network across 40 island and mainland locations from Orkney to Kintyre.

The successful installation is the latest step in the Digital Scotland project to bring high-speed fibre broadband to 84 per cent of the Highlands and Islands region by the end of 2016.

That extension will touch many rural communities comprised of 150,000 premises, which will receive broadband services in the coming months.

Brendan Dick, director of 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."

Deputy First Minister John Swinney added that it will bring economic opportunities to remote businesses.

"The rollout of superfast broadband will allow many households across our islands to connect to fibre broadband services for the first time, as well as giving businesses the opportunity to enhance their services," he said.

Cable laying firm Orange Marine buried the double-armoured cable into the seabeds around the Highlands from its 14,000-tonne ship, the Rene Descartes, while Hampshire-based A-2-Sea Solutions connected the cables to BT's terrestrial network.

Contractors will now concentrate on linking the subsea connections together, with the first island communities set to receive broadband speeds of 80Mbps from early spring 2015.

The Digital Scotland scheme consists of two projects, the one covering the Highlands and Islands area and one focusing on the rest of the country, targeting 750,000 homes, offices and buildings.

The Digital Highlands and Islands project is being led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which is a funding partner alongside the Scottish Government, Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and BT.

The Highlands and Islands rollout will lay more than 500 miles of fibre optic cable, and more than 30,000 premises in Moray, Highland, Shetland and Argyll now have access to faster broadband.

Picture credit: Gillies Mackenzie/HIE Cable laying at Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides