Dig-your-own broadband in Scottish wilderness reaps rewards

They are sparsely populated hamlets which nestle in one of the great wildernesses of the Scottish mainland.

Becy Robertson, manager of the Altnaharra Hotel, said the full-fibre broadband had "dramatically" improved speeds in the remote hamlet. Picture: BT/PA Wire
Becy Robertson, manager of the Altnaharra Hotel, said the full-fibre broadband had "dramatically" improved speeds in the remote hamlet. Picture: BT/PA Wire

At first glance, the Sutherland communities of Altnaharra and Skerray are not an obvious draw to those looking to relocate.

But if your checklist for a new home has broadband speed as the number one priority, there could no better place.

Residents and businesses in the two outlying hamlets can now enjoy some of the fastest broadband speeds in all of Scotland thanks to an emerging technology which promises to transform the way we use the internet.

And the high-speed service was made possible after local people and workers from the Altnaharra estate helped to dig in around 4,800 metres of cable.

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Full-fibre cables have now gone live across the majority of properties in both areas, home to around 130 people.

The material, which replaces copper cables predominantly used for broadband connections, will allow people to download a two-hour long HD film in just 90 seconds. Perhaps more importantly, its speeds of up to 330Mbps are also seen as a major boost for fragile rural economies.

Until now, due to the high costs of bringing faster broadband to small communities in remote areas, many of the villagers have been making do with some of Scotland’s slowest connections of around 0.5Mbps.

Those up and running with the new ultrafast service say it has already brought huge benefits. Becy Robertson, the manager of Altnaharra Hotel, said: “Our original broadband was truly snail’s pace at around 0.53Mbps - we had a hub in the office and guests would sit in the library beside us trying to get connected.

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“We’d have a group of cyclists all trying to update their online blogs, while office staff could not even print a menu.

“So when we had the big surprise that we were going to be getting ultrafast, it was Christmas all over.”

Ms Robertson said the hotel now enjoys downloads speeds of 80Mbps and an upload speed of 20Mbps, which “makes a big, big difference.”

She added: “We do all our banking online, and can now do this whenever we like rather than waiting for a quiet time of day when bandwidth is available. Our booking process has improved dramatically, as we can now update online availability in real time when we take reservations over the phone.”

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Openreach has funded the two pilot fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) projects, building fibre from new nodes off main fibre spines direct to local properties, with both communities helping with digging work.