BT completes superfast subsea links to Scottish Islands

The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project partners are celebrating the installation of 250 miles of fiber-optic cables across a record-breaking 20 seabed crossings. The "once in a generation" undersea cable project to connect the Highlands and Islands been hailed as the most complex subsea engineering challenge ever undertaken by BT in UK waters.

The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project partners are celebrating the installation of 250 miles of fiber-optic cables across a record-breaking 20 seabed crossings. The "once in a generation" undersea cable project to connect the Highlands and Islands been hailed as the most complex subsea engineering challenge ever undertaken by BT in UK waters.

Digital Scotland aims to bring high-speed fiber-optic broadband to 84% of the Highlands and Islands by the end of 2016. The £26.9 million submarine cable project is part of the £146 million 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.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney commented, "Today marks an incredibly important step in the completion of the most complex ever underwater engineering that Scotland has seen. It is a hugely impressive technological feat that work has been completed in such a short timescale. In the coming months, thanks to the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband Program, many island communities will start to benefit from fiber broadband – that otherwise would not have received coverage."

Work will now continue on land to complete the main network, linking the subsea connections together. The first island communities to connect directly as a result of the new subsea links are expected to go live next spring. Local people will have access to fiber broadband speeds of up to 80 Mbps via fiber to the cabinet (FTTC), around 10X faster than the current top speeds available on most Scottish islands, many of which are currently connected by radio links.

The subsea rollout work started in July, with the contract carried out for BT by French specialist cable laying firm Orange Marine. Their ship, the 14,000-ton Rene Descartes, with its submersible plough, remotely operated vehicles, and other support vessels, has become a common sight in the north and west coastlines as it buried the double-armored cable in the seabed.

The onshore activity to connect the cables to BT's terrestrial network has been carried out by Hampshire-based A-2-Sea Solutions.

The longest subsea route is nearly 50 miles long under the Minch from Ullapool to Stornoway, with the shortest covering the 1 mile hop between Ardgour on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula and Onich, south of Fort William.

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 BT, which is also delivering the contract on the ground.

Overall the Highlands and Islands project is laying more than 500 miles of new fiber-optic network backbone to complement BT's existing fiber network, as well as hundreds more to create the local access which brings services to homes and businesses.

BT is investing £19.4 million in the project, on top of its investment in its wider commercial roll-out for the region, taking the total project value to around £146 million.

For more information on FTTx/access systems and suppliers, visit the Lightwave Buyer's Guide.

More in FTTN/C