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BT Completes Scotland’s Subsea Fibre Optic Rollout Project

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 (12:00 pm) - Score 1,341

The £409.8 million Digital Scotland programme and BT have today announced that their joint £26.9 million subsea project, which has been rolling out 250 miles of fibre optic cable under the sea in order to reach various remote and island communities with superfast broadband (FTTC/P), is finally complete.

Admittedly the effort, which required the fibre optic cable to make a total of 20 seabed crossings between different points (i.e. linking 40 island and mainland locations), hasn’t always gone according to plan and this was highlighted after the cable laying ship Rene Descartes (Orange Marine) lost the use of an 8 tonne submersible plough (called “Elodie“) worth £3.6m (here). Thankfully that was eventually recovered and in any case the work was able to continue without it.

As a result the Digital Scotland partners have today met up in Millport, on the Isle of Cumbrae, in order to mark the successful installation of the subsea related work that BT has described as being, “the most complex sub-sea engineering challenge ever undertaken by BT in UK waters“. Apparently the longest subsea route on this build is nearly 50 miles 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.

Overall the programme aims to ensure that 85% of Scottish homes and businesses can access BT’s “high-speed fibre broadband” network by the end of 2015, which will rise to around 95% by the end of 2017. The Highland and Islands (HIE) region alone anticipates that it will only reach 84% by 2016 as part of this effort, although more money is currently being allocated for further upgrades.

John Swinney, Scottish Deputy First Minister, said:

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 Programme, many island communities will start to benefit from fibre broadband – that otherwise would not have received coverage. 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.”

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.”

So far the Broadband Delivery UK based Digital Scotland programme has helped to make superfast broadband (24Mbps+) speeds available to an additional 150,000 Scottish homes and businesses. Meanwhile BT will now focus its post-subsea deployment efforts on connecting the related on land communities and the first connections are anticipated to go live during Spring 2015.

This will make a big improvement over the aging Microwave radio links and associated local copper ADSL lines that some islands currently use.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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