The biggest fibre cable laying project undertaken in the UK in recent years has begun on the West Coast of Scotland to deliver superfast broadband to some of the country’s most remote island communities. Thousands of homes and businesses are set to benefit from the publicly funded digital network being built to bring world class connectivity to Scotland. The subsea cabling forms a vital part of the £410m Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband initiative. When complete it will bring fibre based broadband to many parts of Scotland for the first time.
The cabling forms part of the £146m Highlands and Islands project being led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). Funding partners include the Scottish Government, HIE, and Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK). BT, the selected private sector partner who is rolling out the open access fibre network, is investing £19 million in the area.
As it progresses, the subsea project aims to deliver around 400kms of cables to link island communities. Managed by BT, the deep sea work will be carried out by Orange Marine’s cable ship Rene Descartes using the ship’s submersible plough and remotely operated vehicles to bury the double armoured cable in the seabed, where seabed sediments allow.
Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “Today marks another important milestone for the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband partnership.
“It’s fantastic news that this network will open up the benefits of high quality digital connectivity to our island communities, making them more economically viable in the long term.
“This is one of the most ambitious broadband infrastructure projects ever to have been undertaken and will see 95 per cent of premises in Scotland covered by 2017/18. The scale of the challenge of delivering fibre broadband into rural Scotland outstrips any other part of the UK and indeed, much of Europe.
“This is an important step towards ensuring that Scotland has world-class digital connectivity by 2020. Our investment, and that of our partners in the project, will extend access to superfast broadband across Scotland. This will be a key factor in ensuring Scotland’s long-term economic prosperity.”
There has been significant consultation in relation to this challenging project. Throughout the programme the team will liaise with Marine Scotland to ensure the hugely complex sub-sea programme is carried out in a way that respects the environment and the users of the sea.
The first sections of work have already been completed. Early routes where subsea cable are being deployed include Largs, Cumbrae, Cowal, Mull, Oban, Ardgour and Corran. The cableship will be backed up by dive support vessels, tugs and a shallow water laying vessel. Support vessels carrying out work include the MCS Ailsa and the Coastal Chariot.
Brendan Dick, director, BT Scotland, said: “This is a momentous occasion for BT as we embark on the biggest subsea engineering project BT has undertaken in UK waters. It’s also a first for the number of seabed crossings we’re tackling in a single operation.
“It’s a massive test of engineering ingenuity, so we are keeping everything crossed for stable weather and a fair wind to allow sure and steadfast progress.
“It’s also an exciting time, not only for BT and its partners, but also for island residents and the businesses they run. I look forward with anticipation to people in the Islands reaping the benefits of their very own network of underwater, fibre optic cables.”
The Crown Estate, which manages leasing of the cables and pipelines in UK territorial waters, granted the seabed rights which will allow the installation of these nationally significant broadband connections. The organisation worked closely with Scottish Government, HIE and BT to help develop this opportunity, recognising the unique nature of the project and the benefits it will bring communities in the region.