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Update on BT’s Subsea Fibre Broadband Rollout to 15 Scottish Islands

Monday, September 6th, 2021 (9:49 am) - Score 2,448
Fugro-Fibre-Optic-Cable-Laying-Ship-UK

Earlier this year the Scottish Government named 15 islands under their £600m Reaching 100% (R100) project which, supported by BT (Openreach) and Global Marine, would gain access to superfast broadband ISP speeds via 16 new subsea fibre optic cable links (here). Today we have a small progress update on this.

The new submarine links – part of R100’s LOT 1 (North Scotland and the Highlands) contract – are due to enter the build phase next summer 2022, but before that there’s a lot of prep to be done. The latest update we have is that Fugro, which is also the name of a related cable laying ship, has just completed the offshore fieldwork phase – this began a few months ago and will help to determine the precise subsea routes for the cables.

The work involved use of the vessel’s RAMMS (Rapid Airborne Multibeam Mapping System) solution, which saw Fugro complete airborne bathymetric data acquisition of the cable landing sites in nearshore areas considered too hazardous, even for small vessels. The resulting high-resolution lidar data and imagery will be used to create a 3D model of the area to facilitate the cable route design and support mission planning.

Meanwhile, at sea, three specialist survey vessels from Fugro’s fleet performed geophysical and geotechnical surveys of the nearshore and deepwater areas, including 31 landing sites across the remote island network. The project also comprises unidentified ordnance (UXO) hazard surveys, sub-bottom data collection, and land-based sediment sampling. The accurate integrated survey results from all these studies are expected by mid-October 2021.

Clive Downing, R100 Programme Director, said:

“Digital connectivity has proven to be vital throughout the pandemic and this is something that will make a huge difference to both residents and businesses as we continue to work, learn and access public services remotely. Global Marine and Fugro have successfully mapped out the subsea routes through complex underwater and overhead surveys and this work is the first step in connecting islanders to faster broadband as part of the Scottish Government’s R100 programme for the North Lot contract area.”

Full completion of the LOT 1 contract is not anticipated until the end of 2026 (latest update), although we suspect that the subsea phase may be completed a few years earlier than that. Just to recap, the preliminary route plan from March 2021 looked like this:

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
7 Responses
  1. A_Builder says:

    Good to see more fibre spine going in.

    Much needed and can then be leveraged for 4G etc I am guessing?

    That should give the islands a quick boost in speed as well as B4RN type options. Even radio linking from proper spine is a big step forward from radio linking to microwave in terms of reliability.

  2. Gary H says:

    Hmm a public funded fibre from Mull to the Privately owned Island of Collonsay, Pop 135 with 40% of housing stock being holiday homes. Wouldn’t mind seeing the per property passed for that.(assuming of course that R100 is covering the on island connection to homes as well)

    1. w says:

      Obviously not cheap, as you can imagine from Openreach. The cost per submarine cable landing/per metre should be pretty cheap here though as it’s passive and being done at the same time as alot of other landings.

      I agree, great if you could get the holiday home owners to chip in a couple of grand each.. but ultimately what’s the alternative?

      Do we leave them isolated for the next few years and then hope LEO satellites will be suitable? or with a microwave link that will not be as fast or reliable AND cost more in the long run? You

    2. Jim says:

      Ask the local engineers in Oban how many times they go over to Colonsay for issues and the saving for Openreach in truck rolls, ferry costs and accommodation is probably worth it.

      Can split almost any rural community into “is it really worth it?” type conversations. Inner and Outer Hebrides have needed infrastructure upgrading for ages, might as well do it whilst funding is available.

    3. Rich says:

      The key difference here Jim is that it’s a privately owned island. The public should not be paying to improve a private asset, any more than they will pay to improve my house.

      If the owners want to give the island over to public ownership, that’s a different story.

      Can I have public funding to put cat6 all over my house in order to supply a connection to my lodger who otherwise has no broadband?

    4. Jonathan says:

      Nearly all the public money in R100 is going to improve private property. What you don’t think having an FTTP connection to your private house improves its value? I have a slight used bridge with only a few snapped cables and brand new truss end links to sell you if you believe that.

  3. Gary H says:

    @JIM I totally agree. There’s inevitably winners and losers, and believe it or not i don’t genuinely begrudge isolated islands improved connectivity, But when you are told for the second time like I am(DSSB and R100) that I’m too remote to bother with as the cost per premises passed is too high then it’s justified to question the decisions.

    I’ve no idea how much BT are contributing to the links individually but their total declared funding to R100 was small from what i remember reading, circa 50 million across all three areas.

    I guess the fact that Lot 1 has the highest % of more remote properties makes me a shade more interested in the relative costs for where does and does not benefit when a chunk of the budget goes to 16 subsea fibre deployments.

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