Digital Scotland has said it is pleased to have completed its “once-in-a-generation subsea telecoms project” to connect the most isolated parts of Scotland to superfast broadband, as BT finished laying the first 250 miles of undersea cabling.
The cables cover 20 seabed crossings and the project has been described as one of the most challenging sub-sea projects that the company has undertaken in the UK.
Partners of the project met at Millport, one of the key linkages in the new network across 40 isolated Scottish locations, to celebrate the achievement. Digital Scotland expects to be able to bring high-speed broadband to 84% of the Highlands and Islands within the next two years.
The £26.9 million project forms part of the total £146 million fund set aside for Digital Highlands and Island rollout, which is expected to provide improved services to over 150,000 premises, many in rural areas where reliable broadband connections will be available for the first time.
Deputy First Minister, John Swinney said: “today marks an incredibly important step in the completion of the most complex ever underwater engineering that Scotland has seen. It is a hugely impressive technological feat that work has been completed in such a short timescale.
“In the coming months, thanks to the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband Programme, many island communities will start to benefit from fibre broadband, that otherwise would not have received coverage. The rollout of superfast broadband will allow many households across our islands to connect to fibre broadband services for the first time, as well as giving businesses the opportunity to enhance their services.”
The subsea work started in July, with the contract carried out for BT by French specialist cable laying firm Orange Marine using their ship, the 14,000-tonne Rene Descartes.
The next phase is to link the subsea connections together and it is expected that the first island communities will be directly connected to the network by early 2015. The service will provide 80Mbps, which could represent a tenfold increase in connection speed.
According to BT, the longest subsea route is nearly 50 miles long under the Minch from Ullapool to Stornoway, with the shortest covering the one mile leap between Ardgour on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula and Onich, south of Fort William.