High-speed broadband delivered to Outer Hebrides

Thousands will benefit from the first step in a region-wide roll-out. Picture: Lisa McPhillips
Thousands will benefit from the first step in a region-wide roll-out. Picture: Lisa McPhillips
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SUPERFAST broadband has arrived for the first time in the Western Isles.

Around 3,600 premises in Stornoway will be able go live with high-speed digital connectivity today.

They will be the first to have access to the new services thanks to the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project.

Customers connected to the network through the first 11 live street cabinets across the town and at Tong can order now, or as the services become available through internet service providers.

When connected they could have direct access to download speeds of up to 80mbps*

In addition to the local connections, the core network links to the mainland open up game changing capacity for access to previously unavailable business services.

It’s the first step in a £146million region wide roll-out which will see the majority of premises across the Outer Hebrides better connected by the end of 2016.

The project is being led in the region by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), with work on the ground being carried out by Openreach, the local network division of private sector partners BT.

The delivery of fibre based broadband infrastructure to the Outer Hebrides and the wider Highlands and Islands has been hailed as the most complex undertaken in the UK.

Alex Paterson, HIE chief executive, said: “The scale of the challenge to bring modern, fast and reliable broadband to our remotest areas is huge.

“On the Outer Hebrides the project has seen five sub-sea cables for inter-island and mainland links installed last year, and fibre cabling now runs the length of the islands.

“Over the course of the next year we will see the roll-out of this game-changing network reach at least 70% of premises across the islands.

“We won’t stop there and we are ambitious that the huge step up in capacity that it brings will help us find solutions for more and more people in even the hardest to reach areas.”

BT chief executive Gavin Patterson described the Highlands and Islands broadband roll-out as by far the most ambitious and challenging BT has undertaken anywhere in the UK.

He said: “This has been the most complex subsea project BT has tackled in UK waters and the first time we’ve laid so many seabed cables in a single operation. The whole team has knuckled down to face massive engineering challenges on sea and on land and I’m proud of the effort they’ve put in.

“Thanks to their hard work over many months, people in the Western Isles can now begin to enjoy the benefits that fast, fibre broadband brings to these shores.”

He added: “This spider’s web of submarine fibre optic cables is delivering a seismic shift in communications for Scotland’s island communities, bringing them in closer touch with the rest of the world than ever before.”

The first services in Stornoway are being delivered by ‘Fibre to the Cabinet’ (FTTC) technology. BT Openreach has linked existing telecoms cabinets in the town to new fibre cabinets. Customers connected to these cabinets will be able to check online or with their internet service provider if they can benefit from the new services, and order.

Customers are not upgraded automatically to fibre.

Funding is coming from the Scottish Government and the UK Government as well as HIE and BT.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “This is a momentous day and a huge first step in transforming the future of connectivity for communities and businesses across the Outer Hebrides.

“This investment is designed to reach Scotland’s remoter communities, none of which would have seen these kinds of connections through the commercial market. It marks more positive progress thanks to the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband Programme.

“Every week we make strong progress with around 7,000 new premises having fibre made available to them.

“Thanks to this, and together with commercial work, we are creating an infrastructure which will see us fulfil the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver world class connectivity in Scotland by 2020, ensuring we are a world class digital nation.”

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said: “This is brilliant news for homes and businesses on the Outer Hebrides who can now, for the first time, access superfast speeds.

“The UK Government is investing £120m in Scotland as part of its transformation of the UK’s digital landscape that will see 95% of the nation have access to superfast speeds by 2017.”

There are a number of customers in Stornoway who are currently connected direct to their exchange and Openreach will be back later this year to connect some of these premises.

EO cabinets take a bit longer as the process is more complicated –the telecoms network has to be reconfigured and two new cabinets built.

In the short term those in Stornoway currently connected to EO lines will see an increase in speeds in the coming weeks as a result of the improved capacity to the island.