‘World-first engineering’ used to connect remote island to ultrafast broadband

28 December 2023, 07:54

Fair Isle
1 – R100 Fair Isle subsea image. Picture: PA

Telecoms firm Openreach said it had to ‘get creative’ to connect Fair Isle – the most southerly island in Shetland – to a full-fibre service.

A communications firm has deployed “world-first engineering” as part of its efforts to connect residents on a remote Scottish island with “life-changing ultrafast broadband”.

Fair Isle has been described as the most remote inhabited island in the UK, and is the most southerly island in Shetland.

Businesses there have now been connected to full-fibre broadband almost two years ahead of schedule, with the local post office and shop  among those benefiting from the technology.

The work was funded as part of the Scottish Government’s £404.1 million Reaching 100% North contract (Openreach/PA)

The project represents the greatest distance that Openreach has transmitted a continuous full-fibre signal anywhere in the UK.

And the telecoms company said it had to “get creative” to connect the island – which is home to about 60 people.

A spur cable, which comes off a 68-mile-long subsea cable between Shetland and the Orkney Islands, was used to connect Fair Isle – which lies 24 miles south of the main island of Shetland and 27 miles from North Ronaldsay, the most northerly island in Orkney.

The work was funded as part of the Scottish Government’s £404.1 million Reaching 100% (R100) North contract, which seeks to expand broadband connectivity to remote parts of Scotland, along with £17.4 million of funding from the UK Government.

In what is believed to be a world first, Openreach deployed innovative engineering to boost the signal strength – using a super-powered adaption of the technology currently used in many homes – because of the distance between the islands.

With Fair Isle, which has been owned by the National Trust for Scotland for almost 70 years, an important breeding ground for rare birds, work to connect the island also had to be planned around nesting seasons.

Openreach chief engineer for Scotland Fraser Rowberry said: “Regular fibre signals just couldn’t go the distance, so we had to get creative with some world-first engineering to transmit life-changing ultrafast broadband over 100km to islanders.

“We had to do everything differently on Fair Isle, from planning around bird-nesting seasons to setting up flat-packed cabins for our crew.”

Postmistresss Fiona Mitchell said she hoped the new ultrafast broadband would encourage more people to live in Fair Isle (Fiona Mitchell/PA)

Mr Rowberry praised the islanders for “being so welcoming to our team”, adding: “They’ve been amazing. Now they’re connected to the world in a whole new way.

“This will make Fair Isle an even better place to be – for residents, visitors and future generations – and we’d encourage people on the island to upgrade to full fibre.”

Stackhoull Stores and Post Office was connected to full fibre before Christmas, with postmistress Fiona Mitchell saying she hoped having broadband would encourage more people to live on Fair Isle.

She said: “We are a small population and want to grow and encourage people to be a part of our community.

“Getting a full-fibre connection so that people can more easily work and live here is a major part of that. We need all hands on deck to make the island run.”

Neil Gray, the Wellbeing Economy Secretary in the Scottish Government, said: “I am delighted that we have achieved digital connectivity for Fair Isle almost two years earlier than planned.

“Through our R100 commitment to tackle some of the hardest-to-access terrain in the country, we are improving the educational and life opportunities available to young people across Scotland.

“This innovative step forward for engineering ensures children on Fair Isle are not left behind.

“Internet speeds rivalling the best in the country are helping create a more attractive place for families and young people to live.”

Mr Gray continued: “We committed to invest further in our digital connectivity, despite powers being reserved to Westminster, because we know that by supporting remote working and rural businesses – from Fair Isle jumpers to tourism – we can help to build an island economy which is fair, green and prosperous.”

By Press Association

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