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Northern Orkney Isles Hope for Openreach Radio Broadband Upgrade

Friday, September 14th, 2018 (3:46 pm) - Score 3,208

The remote rural Orkney islands, specifically the tiny isles of Papay and North Ronaldsay, could be about to see an improvement to their dire local broadband ISP speeds after Openreach (BT) reportedly agreed to at least “investigate the practicalities” of delivering faster connectivity to the area via a new wireless link.

A significant chunk of mainland Orkney has already benefited from the regional Digital Scotland project with Openreach, which has enabled the island to move away from an old Microwave link and instead deploy superfast broadband via the operator’s Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL2) network (this is supplied by a new sub-sea fibre optic link).

The aforementioned network covers around 75% of homes and businesses (8,500 premises) via 54 new street cabinets, but it doesn’t reach everywhere. For example, the two outlying islands of Papay and North Ronaldsay continue to complain of both unstable connectivity and speeds that struggle to deliver more than 0.5Mbps.

Liam McArthur, Orkney’s MSP, said (The Orcadian):

“It has been suggested to me that radio links could be established quite easily and cost-effectively for both Papay and North Ronaldsay. While this may not achieve the same speeds as some other options, it may at least offer the benefit of a solution in the nearer future. I welcome the fact that BT has agreed to investigate the practicalities of installing radio links.”

Apparently the new radio link, if approved, could lift local broadband speeds up to around 8Mbps. Admittedly this is still fairly dire for 2018 and it’s even below the Government’s proposed USO download speed of 10Mbps+, as well as the Scottish Government’s proposed 30Mbps+ under the R100 programme. Nevertheless going from c.0.5Mbps to 8Mbps would at least be a fairly noticeable jump for local residents.

At this stage it’s unclear precisely what sort of deployment this would be, although we assume that Openreach will seek to build a new Microwave link to feed the local exchange on each island (i.e. giving more capacity to the existing copper line ADSL service). It’s worth noting that this is also one of the few areas that has yet to be upgraded to support BT’s 21st Century Network (21CN).

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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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20 Responses
  1. Anon says:

    This is the difficulty in Britain. People moan about not getting high speeds like in the Netherlands for example, but Britain’s an archipelago of around 3000 islands. It’s much harder to deploy over all the different terrain in this country, rather than a country that’s a 5th the size and is mostly flat.

    1. Baybeebug says:

      Except I live in a large town in Devon and on fibre cant get more than 10mbps!

    2. un4h731x0rp3r0m says:

      LOL well that is a new excuse. Perhaps if Openreach have such difficulty they could talk to the likes of South Korea which is surrounded by islands but is ranked over 20 places above us in Ooklas Speed index. Or Japan which is nothing more than a whole group of islands and 12 places above us.

      Or maybe im being unfair by mentioning Asia, and how they have had better networks than us for a while for whatever reason or argument any Openreach disciple wants to give. In that case perhaps Openreach could talk to something even more Island in make up and ask the Caribbean how Barbados got to be a whole 8 places above us.

      Seriously will the never ending excuses ever stop!

    3. TheFacts says:

      Clearly an opportunity for all the other companies with code powers.

    4. Mike says:

      BT wanted to follow the likes of SK/Japan in the early 90s but was prevented by Thatcher as she thought it might harm competition.

    5. CarlT says:

      BT certainly didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of NTT in Japan. The infrastructure arm was separated into NTT East and West, both were required to allow access to dark fibre between central offices, full and sub-loop unbundling and NTT can’t sell broadband at retail – wholesale only.

      Most in Japan pay their ISP for IP and NTT for fibre access separately.

      Given they sell retail broadband, phone and TV both directly and via the Plusnet brand I’m not sure this is what BT Group have in mind 🙂

    6. dean says:

      “BT wanted to follow the likes of SK/Japan in the early 90s but was prevented by Thatcher as she thought it might harm competition.”

      Nice, so near 30 year old excuses for the incompetence of today. Makes sense 😀

    7. GNewton says:

      @TheFacts: “Clearly an opportunity for all the other companies with code powers.”
      So why haven’t you been in touch with other telecoms for your own property? Do you have any constructive suggestions to offer on this forum?

    8. TheFacts says:

      @GN – no problem here.

    9. GNewton says:

      @TheFacts: “no problem here.” Good to hear your VDSL line suits your needs.

      However, you hardly ever post constructive and realistic contributions on this ISPReview forum. Your latest comment shows again that you have no understanding why no other companies with code powers have built a network in e.g. the Northern Orkney Isles or elsewhere in poorly served areas. You are don’t seem to be in touch with the real world, I don’t subscribe to your past notion of a nationwide government-funded fibre.

  2. Name says:

    What is the problem in setting up a proper radio link? In 2007, just for fun using single antenna, we (together with my friend) have established stable 18km long radio link based on two MikroTik’s 6xx series at 5GHz band. The maximum bandwidth was about 60Mbit/s. In these days using the same frequency you can achieve up to 1Gb/s for less than £1k per link.

  3. Balquhidder Community Broadband says:

    As long as there is a backhaul connection available not too far away (which appears may be the case), it will take less time and money to create, fund and set up a 500Mb/s+ P2P radio link than Openreach will spend on coffee during their ‘study’. You can then either do a point-to-multipoint distribution on each island or lay fibre from the receiving station to properties.

  4. Daza says:

    So Openreach are looking into possibly helping the orkney islands, what about rural areas in Englang, i live down a 2mile rural lane and get a max of 3mb download, Openreache told us by 2017 we would be on faster broadband or even FTTP, stil waiting…….

    1. Oggy says:

      Do you feel your are more important than the people on the outlying Scottish Islands?

    2. CarlT says:

      If you’re a single property or even a few of them down a 2 mile lane there is no way that even taxpayer funding will cover that unless there’re already ducts for the fibre to travel along and they’re in impeccable condition.

      It would fail the value for money test in a huge way. No way Openreach are going to spend the required funds to reach you out of their own pocket and, frankly, an awful lot of people would have every right to be upset if they did. No way BDUK or other government programmes could justify the spend when they could reach more properties for less.

      Either way it’s other people’s money you’re expecting to be spent upgrading your broadband and, sadly, you’re going to have to wait in line.

      As a guide to what Openreach are prepared to invest they are spending about 300GBP per premises on the ‘Fibre City’ FTTP they are delivering in urban areas. If there are 10 properties along your 2 mile lane that 3k covers maybe 6 new poles or a few hundred yards of soft digging, or a few tens of metres of digging through pavement or along carriageway. That’s an awful lot of money for the taxpayer to make up that can probably be spent delivering to way more homes and businesses.

      It sucks but that’s the calculation.

    3. Brian says:

      I think the problem with the odd house or two 2 miles down a lane, there has never been a plan of how to connect. Similar sitution where in 2014 Superfast Scotland said we’d be upgraded in autumn 2017, to then say their information was wrong. Clearly also the USO isn’t going to help with the eyewatering markups on so much of the work to connect properties.

    4. GNewton says:

      @Brian: “eyewatering markups on so much of the work to connect properties.”
      How has Scotland managed to get telecom lines to remote properties in the first place? What has changed so that there is this ‘Can’t do’ culture everywhere nowadays?

    5. CarlT says:

      There are somewhat higher priorities for such funds right now, like health and social care. We have a population that continues to age and continues to stubbornly refuse to pay for their own care towards end of life to preserve the inheritance they pass on.

      The tax burden on those in employment can only go so high before those picking up the bills while on the whole receiving the least back will tire of it.

      It can certainly be done, though. Are you offering to pay for it yourself or expecting taxpayers to pick up the tab?

      I presume you practiced what you preach with regards to a ‘can do’ attitude and ensured delivery of next generation access to your own property via a community scheme, self-funding or self-build? Be quite strange to have complained about ‘can’t do’ attitudes if you rely on the taxpayer to deliver to you.

    6. GNewton says:

      @CarlT: So are you suggesting that the growing percentage of old-age population is one reason why it has become so hard to build telecom networks?

      I agree money is better spent to improve healthcare services, much better than the wasteful BDUK schemes which resulted in giving money to mostly BT, a commercial company which never had a need for taxpayer’s money.

      About doing things: Yes, we were involved in past community projects, and paid for an office move to an area which has proper telecom services.

    7. Fastman says:


      I agree money is better spent to improve healthcare services, much better than the wasteful BDUK schemes which resulted in giving money to mostly BT, a commercial company which never had a need for taxpayer’s money.
      About doing things: Yes, we were involved in past community projects, and paid for an office move to an area which has proper telecom services.

      Gerads hhmm if you are where I think your you have benefitted from a BDUk project or have you chose not to upgrade out of principle

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