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Scotland Unveil Fibre Broadband Rollout to 15 Islands via R100

Monday, March 15th, 2021 (8:00 am) - Score 2,664
subsea_fibre_optic_laying_openreach_bt_scotland

The Scottish Government (SG) has today named 15 islands under the contract for LOT 1 (North Scotland and the Highlands) of their £579m Reaching 100% (R100) project, supported by BT (Openreach), that will gain access to faster broadband ISP speeds via new subsea fibre optic links.

Just to recap. R100 consists of three contracts with BTLOT 1 (North Scotland and the Highlands), LOT 2 (Central Scotland) and LOT 3 (Southern Scotland). The LOT 2 contract aimed to upgrade at least 47,000 premises, while LOT 3 will do 26,000. The majority of Openreach’s build for those two LOTs are due to be completed by the end of 2023 (LOT 3 by summer 2024) and almost all of this is expected to be delivered using gigabit capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology (see here and here).

NOTE: R100 focuses on the final 5-6% of premises without access to 30Mbps+ “superfast broadband” or any future upgrade plans.

By comparison LOT 1 is the largest one and is valued at £384m. Under the procurement process this was said to reflect about 100,000 remote premises across the Highlands and Islands, Angus, Aberdeen and Dundee, but we don’t yet have the final rollout plan because the contract was only awarded recently, following a year of additional delays due to Gigaclear’s legal challenge (here).

However, we do know that LOT 1 mandated 9 areas where 25% of premises must be able to get speeds of at least 100Mbps. The SG have also stated that 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology will be “used for more than 80% of addresses of the North lot contract build” (the exact figure is 86%), although it’s not yet known what the other 14% will use (slower FTTC is almost certain).

On top of that LOT 1 also involves the laying of 16 new subsea fibre optic cables to help connect 15 of Scotland’s most remote communities. The good news is that the SG has just revealed the route plan for those subsea links.

LOT 1 Subsea Fibre Deployments

Route Provisional survey dates
Yell Unst 27/6
Shetland Mainland Yell 5/7
Fair Isle Shetland Mainland 9/7
Sanday Fair Isle 26/6
Eday Westray 31/5
Eday Sanday 20/6
Sanday Stronsay 17/5
Shetland Mainland Whalsay 9/7
Orkney Mainland Rousay 10/5
Orkney Mainland Shapinsay 28/6
Hoy Flotta 13/7
Flotta South Ronaldsay 22/6
Eigg Scottish Mainland 24/7
Scottish Mainland Lismore 20/7
Iona Mull 13/8
Colonsay Mull 25/7

Weather permitting, survey vessels from Global Marine will aim to begin detailed groundwork in May 2021, with cable laying beginning in Spring 2022.

Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish Minister for Energy, Connectivity & the Islands, said:

“Just a few months on from announcing the signing of the North Lot contract, this is another very significant step towards ensuring our commitment to deliver 100% superfast broadband across Scotland, including to some of our most remote island communities.

The role of digital connectivity in our everyday lives has never been clearer as we tackle the pandemic. The new subsea cables will ensure these 15 island communities have access to futureproofed, resilient, reliable connections – something that will make a huge difference to both residents and businesses there. It will help improve the quality of life for both current and future islanders, while also benefitting visitors once inbound tourism can safely return.

Scotland has some of the most challenging locations anywhere in Europe for providing telecommunications infrastructure and this alongside our interventions on mobile connectivity, demonstrates we are taking innovative steps to provide superfast access to some of the hardest-to-reach areas.

We have also developed plans, in parallel with main infrastructure investment, to ensure our 100% superfast commitment is met with our Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme. This will ensure that everyone can access and benefit from this world-leading digital capability.”

Robert Thorburn, Partnership Director at Openreach Scotland, said:

“The subsea build is essential to bring reliable, fast broadband to those island communities which don’t yet have access.

It’s a massive challenge, not only because of the number of cables involved and the sensitive and complex nature of the work, but also the fact it must be done while the weather is on our side. Our subsea partner Global Marine will have survey ships out in Scottish waters this Spring and Summer to start planning the cable routes.

The advent of superfast broadband on our islands, through a previous subsea partnership, has been truly transformative. We’re hugely excited about the positive impact this latest R100 subsea build will have on island life.”

All of this is very good news, although it’s disappointing that the SG hasn’t yet been able to clarify precisely how many premises will benefit as a result of the final LOT 1 contract award and over what timescale. We would expect that information to surface soon although, given the delays and challenges involved, a completion date around 2026 or 2027 seems increasingly probable.

One other factor here is that LOT 2 of the R100 programme was recently revised with £4.5m of additional public funding from the UK Government’s £5bn Gigabit Broadband Programme, which meant that the planned FTTC deployments in that contract could be converted to “full fibre” FTTP (here). We understand that discussions have taken placed about a similar agreement for LOT 1. Time will tell.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Shetland Telecom, which is an arms-length organisation set up by the Shetland Islands Council (Scotland) to develop local telecommunications networks, is already in the process of building a new subsea link to improve connectivity to Yell and Unst (here) – the Shetland to Yell route has already completed. But extra fibre is always welcome, particularly for resilience purposes.

Scotland_R100_Lot1_Subsea_BT_fibre_map

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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.
Leave a Comment
11 Responses
  1. Cecil Ward says:

    Unfortunately my village in Skye has been forgotten; still on ADSL2 getting 10Mbps down / 1.2 Mbps up and costing me £150 per month.

    1. Brian says:

      That’s three times faster than we could get. Fortunately 4G available, so switched to that, not perfect, but better than the ADSL2 offering

    2. The Facts says:

      Who charges £150/month?

    3. Archie says:

      £150? Bizarre!

    4. John says:

      It’s not 3 times faster than you Brian.
      1 of your lines is actually faster than 1 of Cecil’s.

      Cecil has to bond 4 lines to get 10Mb/s. That’s why it’s £150.

      Not bizarre at all.

    5. AQX says:

      Are you covered by Skyenet wireless?

    6. Gary says:

      John, None of which Cecil mentioned in his post, so really it was bizarre, right up to the point you provided some detail.

  2. JTScotland says:

    I doubt we’ll see the LOT1 plan being announced before the Scottish election – not a good news story if the completion date is 2027

  3. Martin says:

    I see this as a good strategic project. There is no point installing FTTP (or even FTTC) in these islands if there is very limited capacity to get data to the islands in the first place.

    Interestingly the Shetland Islands of Unst and Yell will need a faster internet for the proposed spaceport at Unst.

  4. Gary says:

    Looks like the only thing that changed from the last State funded rollout for my Area is that we’ve gone from ‘too remote’ to ‘not remote enough’

    1. Stephen says:

      Hi Gary

      I feel your pain.
      While it is great to see the LOT 1 program producing some results, it is frustrating to see that Openreach are happy to hire a cable laying vessel & deliver subsea fibre optic cables to the remotest outreaches of the country, meanwhile this of us who live slightly outside the catchment area of a Dominos delivery driver, will have to wait until at least 2022 or later. & for our street that’s with a half built FTTP network already in place.

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