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Openreach Extends FTTP Broadband to Remote Outer Hebrides

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019 (10:58 am) - Score 2,484

At a significant cost – around £4,000 per premises – Openreach (BT) and the £442m (public and private investment) Digital Scotland (DSSB) project have today announced that they’ve deployed their Gigabit capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband ISP network to several tiny Outer Hebrides (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) communities.

The final stage of the DSBB project is already known to be focusing most of its efforts upon “full fibre” (FTTP) ultrafast broadband infrastructure (here and here), which is now reaching some of the remotest rural communities in the whole of the United Kingdom. Much of this is being funded by clawback (gainshare), which is public money reinvested via BT as a result of high take-up in intervention areas.

The latest examples being touted today are Grimsay and Great Bernera in the Outer Hebrides, which were previously only being catered for via a slow fixed wireless connection that offered top download speeds of around 2Mbps and restricted data allowances.

Grimsay is a tiny island (3km long and half again in width) with just 113 homes (mostly a fishing settlement), which is joined to North Uist and Benbecula via a small causeway and all can now order ultrafast speeds (65% take-up). Similarly 220 homes on Great Bernera, which resides 100 miles north of Grimsay and sits off the north-west coast of Lewis (linked to the main island by a road bridge), can also order to the new network.

Naturally this kind of remote civil engineering work does not come cheap and required 90km of new fibre cables, which is said to have returned a cost of around £4,000 per premises. Such a subsidy would be completely uneconomical without significant public investment through DSSB and this is one of the reasons why Scotland’s future follow-on R100 (Reaching 100%) project has set aside a large budget of £600m.

NOTE: The future R100 contract aims to bring “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) networks to nearly 100% of premises in Scotland (current coverage is around 94-95%).

Joe FitzPatrick, Scottish Government Minister for Public Health, said:

“Many people living here are engaged in traditional industries, with the island renowned for the quality of the seafood caught off its shores. Full fibre not only enables local industries to engage fully online, but future-proofs the island for economic development and growth. In a world where technology is a main driver, good connectivity levels the playing field, creating new opportunities and stemming depopulation.

It will also undoubtedly be of great benefit to residents in the area when it comes to healthcare. Programmes such as Attend Anywhere gives patients the ability to have virtual appointments with healthcare professionals via their laptop, tablet or mobile – a service the residents of Grimsay and Great Bernera can now access.

However, we recognise that not everyone has access to such services and that more must be done. This is why, despite the reserved nature of telecoms in the United Kingdom, we have made the commitment to deliver 100% superfast broadband access in Scotland and backed that commitment with the substantial investment of £600 million in the procurement phase for the Reaching 100% programme.”

Robert Thorburn, Openreach’s partnership director for Scotland, said:

“When we started planning the Digital Scotland rollout, Western Isles was hands down the most difficult place to build. It has the lowest population density in the UK and many communities are comprised of remote and scattered households.

This project is a game-changer for the people of the Western Isles, with a lasting legacy for the future. In a place like Grimsay, technology is truly life-changing – opening up markets and innovation for businesses and connecting islanders to each other, the world and vital services.

There’s more to do, but if we can bring full fibre broadband to a scattered community like Grimsay, then it can be done anywhere.”

Much of the above work is only possible because of a 2014 effort by BT to build 20 new subsea fibre routes at a cost of around £27 million (here), which stretched across the Minch from Ullapool to Stornoway.

As it stands today Openreach’s superfast network has reached nearly 80% of premises on the islands (using the older “superfast” definition of 24Mbps+) and the take-up rate is currently 66%.

The focus is now switching toward the R100 project, which has sadly faced numerous delays (here and here) and seems extremely unlikely to reach its original aspiration of 100% coverage by the end of 2021. A supplier is expected to be chosen before the end of 2019, which is roughly a year later than originally planned.

At present around 180,000 premises across Scotland are deemed eligible for intervention under R100 (across three lots), which given the £600m equates to a significant subsidy of around £3,300+ per premises.

The 20 Subsea Cable Routes (2014)
Largs – Millport
Kilchattan Bay- Millport
Rothesay – Toward
Kilfinan – Lochgilphead
Campbeltown – Shiskine
Corrie – West Kilbride
Jura – Port Askaig
Glenbarr – Port Ellen
Jura – Ormsary
Kilchoan – Tobermory
Craignure – Oban
Ardgour – Onich
Stornoway – Ullapool
Lochmaddy – Leverburgh
Carnan – Dunvegan
Ardvasar – Mallaig
Dervaig – Scarinish
Lochboisdale – Eriskay
Eriskay – North Bay
Evie – Westray

Leave a Comment
21 Responses
  1. Avatar Chris Sayers

    Openreach Extends FTTP Broadband to Remote Outer Hebrides – Great news for those remote communities, like POTS the cost of connecting homes and business back in the day that would have been significant, I am sure that investment has been paid back in spades, this will be true for full fiber, eventually that investment will be recouped.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Not really. Funded by taxpayers and/or the higher charges paid by urban areas – these would be lower without cross-subsidy of more rural, expensive to install and expensive to operate, networks.

      Society rather than individualism and all that.

    • Avatar Joe

      Fib in places like this will never pay back

    • Avatar Fastman

      payback on this will be about 15 /20 years —

      openreach earns about £120/130 a year per premise (based on around £10-11 per month line rental so payback some time after 2033

    • Avatar Jonathan


      The Scottish government heavily subsidies the islands as is. For example the article mentions Attend Anywhere, which will save money in the Highlands and Islands Patient Travel Scheme


      That is just one subsidy of the top of my head, and is before any stimulation of the local economy which will hopefully prevent further depopulation, something considered by many if not most of Scotland at least as desirable.

      So long term given this fibre is unlikely to be replaced ever unless it suffers damage or deterioration it is highly likely to save the public purse money.

  2. Avatar AndyC

    Who was supplying the wireless to them?

    Is this a case of someone going out of business due to openreach rolling out fttp?

    • At a guess I’d say it’s this lot (http://www.hebrides.net), which hasn’t been updated or improved in years. In fairness if your network stands still and doesn’t keep pace with the times then you can’t expect to survive in such a market forever.

    • Avatar A_Builder


      Fail to invest and die is a good business dictum in these cases.

      I cannot begrudge a commercial operator who has spend the £££ to put in a gold standard network for the future. That is the nature of competition and that is a good thing.

      This is also very good news as it shows ongoing progress in tackling the last few percent. I am all for BDUCK gain-share clawback going to the worst cases as these will never be commercially viable or built fast so having a slow constant roll hoovering them up is the way forwards. Given that this is remote as it is a £4k per premises build actually seems quite reasonable to me and gives me a lot of hope that some of the more outlandish numbers floated around are upper bound.

    • Avatar AndyC

      Thanks guys, i was worried id be called a idiot for asking, i admit im not the sharpest tool in the box and some of my previous comments here have been less then productive but i find this very interesting and have found this site one of the best sources of knowledge for me to learn from.

      I have been watching a lot of people complain about a possible openreach monopoly but to me a monopoly is just being able to get a service from one provider, if i had the choice id want to openreach to do round where i live as then i would have a choice of providers, ok a small one at the moment but with sky now throwing their hat in with openreach i have a feeling we will see the amount of other isp’s offering services via openreach FTTP increase a lot.

      I would be very interested if in say a year or to this story was checked up on to see what the take up is, 65% sounds incredibly good but i wonder if the remaining are still in contract or genuinely don’t care about the net.

    • Avatar A_Builder


      If you were in a very remote location where the mobile coverage was variable and someone offered you a dead good connection I think you would jump at the chance. So I don’t think 65% is that hight TBH and I think it will probably go higher with natural demographic shifting. I’d be surprised if in 5 years it isn’t more like 80%.

      Bear in mind the high take up on very rural does quite a lot to offset the costs. OK there is still a big(ish) deficit but there you go.

      So if you are in a town and have 33% market penetration and it costs £500 per premises then the real cost if £1500 per premises connected.

  3. Avatar darren

    Hebrides.net is like a time capsule back to 1998.

  4. Avatar D cunningham


  5. Avatar Karen

    Happy for them but when is the outskirts of Edinburgh getting done!!!!!

  6. Avatar Optimist

    Wouldn’t a wireless network, as has recently been installed in Orkney, be a more cost-effective option?

    • Avatar Jonathan

      Short term perhaps yes, long term a fibre optic cable is for keeps and gives speeds way in excess than is possible with wireless. So unless you believe in superluminal communication (in which case you are a nut job and I can’t help) you can only get better than the current fibre optic with hollow fibre optic which will get you at most 60 microseconds lower latency (even a hard core game would not care) in the distribution network and nothing for extra speed. This fibre optic is basically good for *all* time, though change of the optics at each end will be required over time.

  7. Avatar Steven

    I live a mile outside of Glasgow city centre, I can see the city centre from my window, and can’t even get FTTP

  8. Avatar Marty

    Great to see some remote places getting FTTP. Would new exchanges have to be built to accommodate them if it’s a remote wireless only area?

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