No strings attached for broadband delivery to Isles

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High speed broadband has arrived on the small Hebridean island of Scalpay.

A wireless link is providing access to the same mainstream fibre-based services as is available on the mainland, without the need for subsea cabling.

Wireless to the Cabinet (WTTC) technology has been installed as part of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) project, which is a £146m investment rolling out fibre- based services across the Highlands and Islands.

To bring superfast services to many parts of Scalpay, a radio mast with dishes has been installed by engineers from Openreach, the local network business which is part of BT Group; at North Harbour.

The dishes send and receive radio signals from a site at Sunnyhill more than 6km away at Tarbert, in Harris.

These signals are then relayed to green cabinets which serve the local homes and businesses. There are two on Scalpay, one at the exchange and the other at Outend.

For people using broadband on the island, it will be exactly the same as if they were connected up to cabled fibre cabinets used in towns and villages across Scotland.

The increase in speed and subsequent benefits are exactly the same. Customers’ premises are connected up to the broadband cabinet using phone lines so there is no need for any special dish equipment in the home or business.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is leading on the DSSB investment which is rolling out next generation broadband in the Outer Hebrides for the first time, with Openreach the delivery partner.

Around seven out of ten of all Outer Hebrides homes and businesses can so far connect to the new network.

Donnie Morrison, of the HIE Digital team, commented: “The publicly subsidised Connected Communities network has been delivering broadband for Scalpay until now. We’re delighted that mainstream next generation broadband has now arrived. Word is spreading and more than 30 premises are already connected in just a month.

“Digital Scotland has an online checker which will give you an overview of available services www.hie.co.uk/fibre, and you can shop around on comparison websites or speak to an Internet Service Provider to order. Where services are available customers will need a phone line to be able to access them.

“Roll out under the current contract will continue until the end of this financial year – with coverage expected to reach at least 76 per cent of Outer Hebrides’ premises. The Scottish Government has committed to 100 per cent access to broadband speeds of 30 Mbps download or more by 2021. It is currently planning the next phase of work to deliver this.”

Robert Thorburn, Openreach’s fibre broadband director in Scotland, said: “Innovative engineering work like this is helping to bring fibre broadband to more remote communities across Scotland. This technology removes the need for expensive and complex subsea cables, but brings all of the same benefits to homes and businesses.

“We’ve seen strong take-up rates which is enabling the reinvestment of millions of pounds back into the network. We’ll continue to work with communities and our partners on new ways to deliver this huge and challenging infrastructure project to benefit the people of Scotland.”

Openreach is using this same technology to serve many other remote areas of Scotland. Planning permission has just been granted for a Raasay mast and Coll, Morvern, Berneray, Glenelg, and St. Catherines will also benefit from this technology in the coming months.