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Inverness, Fort William, Thurso and Wick to Get Full Fibre Network

Friday, March 29th, 2019 (12:01 am) - Score 2,652

A new project, which is to be assisted by Cityfibre, Capita and £9.5m from the UK Government’s Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme, will result in a Gigabit speed fibre optic broadband network being built to connect 152 public sector sites (schools, council etc.) in the challenging highlands of Scotland.

Bringing pure fibre optic connectivity to some of the remotest rural towns in Scotland is no mean feat (even Openreach and Virgin Media struggle there) and in theory it could lay the groundwork for a wider roll-out of 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) style services to residents in the future. We imagine this might echo Cityfibre’s existing ISP partnership approach with Vodafone (FTTH for 5 million UK premises by 2024).

However for now the new project appears to be primarily orientated around supporting Capita’s Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) programme, which was set up a few years ago to establish a single shared network and common ICT infrastructure across Scotland’s entire public sector. So far more than 6,000 sites have been connected to the SWAN and today’s announcement will grow that figure.

The fibre optic upgrade is also being supported by a collaboration between the Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Natural Heritage, NHS Highland, the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).

In addition, Cityfibre has committed a multi-million-pound private investment to construct the fibre network connecting the sites in Inverness, Fort William, Thurso and Wick, which it will thus design, operate and own.

Drew Hendry MP (SNP, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) said:

“The Gigabit City steering group has been working to realise this cutting-edge high-speed fibre connectivity over the past year and today’s announcement will ensure we make significant progress towards that objective. As well as transforming internet connectivity in our public buildings, I would like to see our business community also benefit from this infrastructure in the future.

The potential for Inverness and the wider Highlands really is enormous through improved productivity, inward investment and innovation. Instead of following, we will be at the forefront of the digital opportunities and that is certainly cause for celebration.”

James McClafferty, Cityfibre Head of Regional Development, said:

“This announcement marks yet another major CityFibre investment in Scotland’s digital infrastructure. With existing full fibre projects in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Stirling, connecting schools, libraries, council offices and community hubs, our fibre infrastructure is already transforming the delivery of public services – fit for the future.

Better connectivity not only drives efficiency and improves the digital experience of staff and community members, it will also help position these areas for economic growth, investment and innovation.”

Under the plan this new network will need to be completed by March 2021, which may sound like quite a long time for so few sites but it makes complete sense when you consider the location and layout of these towns, as well as the very limited degree of existing optical fibre in those areas.

The fact that it’s Cityfibre doing this and not one of the other major telecoms operators is itself quite big news. On top of that it also sets somewhat of a benchmark for similar towns. Until now we’ve tended to see the operator focusing upon larger towns and cities, while Thurso (population of 8,000) and Wick (population of 7,000) almost represent the opposite end of that spectrum.

If projects like this can succeed in such locations then there is indeed more hope for brining full fibre services into similarly remote locations across the rest of the UK. Such things will be essential if the Government ever hopes to achieve its ambition for nationwide full fibre coverage by 2033.

Leave a Comment
15 Responses
  1. Avatar John Mccolgan

    Does anyone know how these sites are connected at present, ADSL or already on Openreach fibre? The average of 62k a site may not cut it to get fibre in.

  2. Avatar David Jeffrey

    This investment is very much about SWAN, but CityFibre will leverage this foothold in the Highlands to partner with other telcos to deploy fibre in the future in an area financially challenging for the big players.

    • Avatar John Mccolgan

      That’s where the biggest benefit will come from, reaching the not spots – long overdue.

  3. Avatar chris conder

    thank goodness for altnets.

  4. Avatar Cecil Ward

    Does this mean zero freedom of choice for FTTP ISP if someone wants FTTP in those areas?

    • At this time they’re only building a public sector network, so ISP choice is not terribly relevant to consumers. In the future if they did do a FTTH service then I suspect Vodafone would get some exclusivity, although later it would be open to other ISPs to join. Really depends on the agreements as Cityfibre tends to do an open access network.

    • Avatar Steve

      There are pockets of Openreach FTTP (mostly new builds) around the Inverness area so folks already have a choice of FTTP ISPs for those lucky enough to get it. However as MJ says, this announcement is mainly to do with public sector sites. One day if Cityfibre decide to expand that fibre to ordinary users than it depends on who they decide to sell that with.

    • Avatar alan

      I guess that will depend on if whoever you want as a provider can also be bothered to install in the area.

  5. Avatar Graeme Mackay

    THUS > Cable and Wireless > Vodafone already have an extensive network of fibre in these locations which was built out as part of the original Pathfinder North project.

    State Aid rulings prevented wholesaling of that network however.

  6. Avatar Sarah

    This is great. I am always getting the Caledonian Sleeper from FW and the part of the track that needs a radio signal can now have fibre at both ends to talk to each other – and the stations can have WIFI

    • Is the Caledonian Sleeper any good Sarah? I’ve always fancied giving that a go.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Friend who lives in FW uses it for business and leisure and is a fan, Mark.

    • Avatar baby_frogmella

      Living in Inverness, I’ve used the Caledonian Sleeper to London many times. For me the novelty wore off very quickly, mainly due to the carriages being very old, clapped out British Rail inter city stock modified into sleeping carriages….its difficult to sleep on a noisy as hell train! Where I have a choice, i prefer to take the plane and it can be cheaper. Having said all this, the new sleeper trains are due to go into service in the next few months and I must admit they look very nice inside so might be tempted to give the sleeper another try.

  7. Avatar Fastman

    new trains from this summer

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