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UK Gov Updates on Rural Satellite Broadband Trial and New Pilots UPDATE

Monday, Jun 12th, 2023 (11:15 am) - Score 2,152

The Government has revealed some new details about their previously announced trial (here) to deliver “high-speed broadband” via Satellite ISP solutions to Shetland. At the same time, they’ve also launched a new Smart Infrastructure Pilots Programme (SIPP) and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Telecoms Diversification with Australia.

In case anybody has forgotten. The Government set aside £8m to help deliver “high-speed broadband” for up to 35,000 of the UK’s “most remote properties” (i.e. those unable to get gigabit-capable connections). At the time they could only confirm that this would involve OneWeb’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) network via partners BT and Clarus.

Back then, the Gov also stated that the trials would take place somewhere in the Shetland Islands and on Lundy Island, near the north Devon coast. These trials build on OneWeb’s community broadband trials to sites in remote locations such as Canada, Greenland, and soon to British territories in the South Atlantic.

The good news is that the Government has today revealed some more details on the Shetland trial and a few other developments. But due to a meeting, I can’t do a proper summary this morning, thus I’ll just have to paste the key bits of their announcement.

Papa Stour connected to high-speed satellite broadband

The island of Papa Stour in the Shetland Islands, one of the most remote communities anywhere in the UK, will see its digital infrastructure transformed in a matter of days as part of government plans to ensure universal access to fast, reliable broadband coverage.

Clarus Networks Group starts work on installing a specialist Kymeta flat panel today which, when finished later this week, will link to OneWeb’s constellation of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites to beam high-speed, reliable broadband connections to the island from space.

The panel’s installation marks its first commercial roll-out in Europe and forms part of the government’s Alpha Trial programme launched in December to test the capability and viability of low orbit satellites to deliver high-speed connectivity to communities in very hard to reach areas.

Broadband connectivity will be beamed down to the Scottish island’s rugged coastline via OneWeb’s satellite network, delivering life-changing digital accessibility, made possible by British-born science and technology innovation, and effective collaboration between central and local government.

Boosting connectivity and innovation with Smart Infrastructure Pilots Programme

The Minister also announced the launch of the Smart Infrastructure Pilots Programme (SIPP). Helping local authorities to deploy advanced digital infrastructure such as smart lampposts, SIPP will support the ambition set out in the government’s recently published Wireless Infrastructure Strategy for people, business and public services across the UK to realise the full benefits of 5G and other advanced wireless connectivity – from economic to environmental growth.

The initiative, a joint programme between DSIT and the Department for Transport (DfT), will provide up to £1.5 million in funding for 6 local authority-led pilots, which will be matched by smart service providers working with the participating local authorities, to procure and test innovative smart multi-purpose columns or lampposts.

Smart multi-purpose columns or lamp posts are street furniture that have the capacity to deliver a range of smart services, including improved mobile network connectivity, public Wi-Fi, electric vehicle charging, public safety and environmental monitoring. Investing in this technology can help bring cost savings to a local authority and increase connectivity for local communities.

The announcement is also a significant step towards achieving the government’s levelling up priorities and fostering widespread access to the benefits of good connectivity in communities across the UK.

UK and Australia Memorandum of Understanding on Telecoms Diversification

Minister Whittingdale today announced a Memorandum of Understanding on Telecoms Diversification between the UK and Australia.

Telecoms supply chains are global and working together with international partners is a critical piece of the government’s approach to achieving ambitions on telecoms diversification – reducing the global reliance on just a number of vendors to provide equipment for building 5G and future telecoms technologies networks and attracting new entrants to the UK market.

The MoU cements the strong foundations that already exist between the UK and Australia and will see the 2 countries strengthen cooperation on telecoms diversification, particularly the development of open and interoperable solutions such as open RAN, a kit which allows providers to ‘mix and match’ solutions from multiple vendors – enabling much more vendor diversity in the telecoms ecosystem.

UPDATE 13th June 2023 @ 4:13pm

The Edinburgh-based Clarus Networks Group has today confirmed to us that they’ll officially switch-on the trial network in Papa Stour tomorrow, which will then distribute the broadband capacity from OneWeb’s satellite network out to the island’s primary school building via a “WiFi” link.

At its peak in the 19th century, Papa Stour’s population was around 380 people, supported by a strong fishing sector. However, the population has dwindled since, and the island is now a permanent home to just 7 people. Presently, there are no children living on the island, but it is hoped the fast connection will allow the school building to act as a connection hub for the islanders.

The switch-on also marks Europe’s first commercial deployment of a new satellite comms panel, the Kymeta Hawk u8 terminal, which is flat and compact compared to previous domed antennas.

UPDATE 29th July 2023

So far as we can tell, the WiFi being deployed in Papa Stour appears to involve the deployment of a mesh style network that is relaying its wireless signal across kit installed on top of local lampposts (directly related to the SIPP mentioned above). Six other small local schemes across the UK will also procure and test smart lampposts as part of a wider trial. The SIPP is part of a wider Alpha Trial programme, which is testing LEO solutions in remote rural communities.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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13 Responses
  1. Avatar photo charles says:

    I spoke to someone yesterday in Shetland. Starlink is now live over the whole island. Is this another money waste Mr Shifty Sunak?

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Good spot charles, it looks like they just extended it. But the government are testing Starlink solutions too, in different areas.

    2. Avatar photo Ex Telecom Engineer says:

      My understanding is that OneWeb wont be used to provide direct residential service. The most likely scenario is a solution involving BT providing a backhaul service to the LEO’s and possibly offering a broadband service at 4G/5G Frequencies. I would think a OneWeb service would be cheaper than Starlink.

  2. Avatar photo NE555 says:

    What’s the plan for distributing the Oneweb downlink to the properties that need it? Are they providing a 4G/5G base station, or something else?

    The big advantage of Starlink is that everyone has their own dedicated terminal.

    1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      why would that be considered an advantage? if the oneweb terminal is like starlink it’ll be a power hungry beast, better to let the network operators worry about care and feeding (and pay for a suitably high bandwidth service). plus you get outdoor mobile coverage if you didn’t have it before, win-win.

      now that starlink is apparently available, anyone who wants to self provide can do so.

  3. Avatar photo Nicholas Roberts says:

    Yet if it was a military requirement they’d have an undersea cable in there lickerty-splitts.

    I take it that the islands have twisted-pair voice connections to the mainland . . so why not broadband ?

    Rather like the emerging policy regarding domestic air flights i.e. that they should be undertaken by land journeys i.e. railway, why the hell is it sensible policy to start resorting to orbital based connection solutions for a domestic UK service ?

    I don’t recall during the North Sea Gas conversion programme of the late 1960s and 1970s, the installers failing to link-up remote parts of the network or remote households failing to have installed the necessary kit to do appliance conversion.

    The current broadband introduction and extension programme is . . . Pathetic. A political artifice to benefit “Mates” instead of the customers.

    If HMG had let the contracts on a regional and sub-regional basis, with the stipulation that the contractors contractual duty was to ensure that everyone in a region was connected, whether distal or proximal, irrespective of cost and that contractors would take the rough with the smooth . . and that a geographical and demographic “Levelling-up” process on the allocation of areas would be undertaken by Civil Servants before the contracts were let (Even if it meant that some areas bore a resemblance to a Sunshine Desserts sales area), then none of the other orbital providers would have got a look-in except as a domestic fall-back service or commercial competition.

    Strategically unwise to have part of the domestic network dependent on, in effect, an atmospheric link.
    But there you go, favours for mates.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Shetland is already fed by subsea fibre cables. The problem is the huge cost of spreading that into sparse rural communities via FTTP.

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      yep, and as an example, the Isles of Scilly has had Openreach FTTx for years now. BT reactivated a dormant fibre cable and removed the reliance on microwave links. But that’s a much smaller challenge than the Shetlands.

      (as reported by this esteemed organ https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2014/07/cable-ship-resolute-brings-fibre-optic-broadband-isles-scilly.html & https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2014/11/bt-hooks-first-superfast-broadband-customers-isle-scilly.html)

      As for comparisons to gas – plenty of places never received mains gas. My parents place in Cornwall doesn’t have it, a main gas pipeline runs literally around the edge of the parish but it was not brought in, so your options are electric heating or LPG/oil deliveries. Every other utility is available, including FTTP in much of the village.

    3. Avatar photo Justin says:

      See Orkney and Shetland fibre cables here


    4. Avatar photo XGS Is On says:

      Had the requirement been to connect everyone there would’ve been no takers or the subsidy required would’ve gone through the roof.

      The easier bits are being covered by commercial deployment. There is no ‘smooth’ to go with the ‘rough’.

      Mains gas coverage is considerably lower than both full copper and hybrid copper broadband services. It won’t be too long before gigabit broadband is more widely available than mains gas.

  4. Avatar photo anon says:

    “soon to British territories in the South Atlantic”
    we are gaining new territories? which ones?

    1. Avatar photo 4chAnon says:


    2. Avatar photo Phil says:

      We are actually losing territory. Just last night in Regents Street in the heart of the country a video of the British flag being tossed down to the ground in order to make room for the new state religion woke flag.

      When being told that they were taking down the wrong flag, the guys in hi viz just simply replied “we know..”

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