Ship will lay 20 fibre optic undersea cables across Highlands and Islands in BT’s biggest ever subsea project in UK territorial waters
BT has awarded three firms a £26.9 million contract for an ambitious subsea cabling project which will help deliver fast, fibre broadband to the Highlands and Islands.
Specialist vessels will lay 20 fibre optic submarine cables in a precise operation during May to October next year, providing a fibre broadband backbone which will eventually link communities from Kintyre to Orkney
The massive engineering effort is part of the £146 million investment project launched with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) in March to bring high-speed fibre broadband to communities across the north of Scotland.
Chelmsford-based Global Marine Systems will conduct detailed marine route surveys and supply the cables; Orange Marine, which is based in France but works globally, has been contracted to lay around 400 kilometres of subsea cables, while Hampshire-based A-2-Sea Solutions has been chosen to work onshore connecting the cables to BT’s terrestrial network.
BT has a successful track record of working with all three companies, who were chosen from a competitive tendering process which featured several rival bids.
The longest cable will run for nearly 79km under the Minch from Ullapool to Stornoway, with the Western Isles also benefitting from a second link stretching more than 57km between Carnan on South Uist, and Dunvegan on Skye. (Locations of all 20 cables are listed at the bottom of this release).
Brendan Dick, director, BT Scotland, said: “Quite simply, it’s the biggest subsea engineering project BT has undertaken in UK territorial waters and is the first ever with so many seabed crossings.
“The size of the task presents a massive challenge, not only because of the number of cables involved but also the fact that the work has to be completed within a single, six-month weather window. The pressure is on but we’re confident that in just over a year’s time, the Highlands and Islands will be set to benefit from its own network of underwater, fibre optic cables.”
HIE’s Stuart Robertson, Director of Digital Highlands and Islands, said: “From the outset HIE was determined that this project would reach across our region. The subsea cables are an essential part of bringing high speed broadband to our west coast communities. Their installation is essential in order to reach the 84 per cent coverage target for the region. The fibre network will bring services closer to everyone and will make it easier to provide better broadband to even our hardest to reach areas.”
The subsea 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. The cableship will be backed up by dive support vessels, tugs and a shallow water laying vessel.
The £146m fibre broadband scheme is being led by HIE and delivered by BT. It means that around 84 per cent of Highlands and Islands homes and businesses will have access to fibre broadband by the end of 2016. Unlike other companies, BT offers fibre broadband access to all service providers on an open, wholesale basis, underpinning a competitive market.
The project is by far the most ambitious and challenging rural broadband roll-out BT has undertaken anywhere in the UK. Along with the subsea cables, the company will build more than 800km of new land fibre backbone to complement its existing fibre network, and install hundreds more kilometres of fibre access cable to hundreds of new street cabinets.
The public sector investment towards the contract is £126.4m. It is being delivered through the Scottish Government broadband fund, which incorporates funding from Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), and also includes up to £12m from HIE’s own budget.
BT is investing an additional £19.4 million in the project, on top of its investment in its wider commercial roll-out for the region, taking the total project value to around £146 million.
Coverage levels in all seven local authority areas within the project area will represent a significant step change for fibre broadband in the Highlands and Islands.
BT expects to deploy widespread fibre to the cabinet, which offers broadband speeds of up to 80Mbps* and some Fibre to the Premises.
During the life of the project, BT and HIE will also be assessing new and emerging technology options through a £2.5 million Innovation Fund, with a view to extending faster broadband to the most remote places in the Highlands and Islands.
* These are the top wholesale speeds available from Openreach to all service providers; speeds offered by service providers may vary.
Due to the current network topography, and the economics of deployment, it is likely that some premises within selected exchange areas will not initially be able to access fibre-based broadband. Alternative solutions for these locations are being investigated.
H&I SUBSEA CABLE ROUTES
Notes to Editors
Local authority areas are – The Highland Council, The Moray Council, Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Argyll and Bute Council and part of North Ayrshire Council (Arran and The Cumbraes).
Highlands and Islands Enterprise is an economic and community development agency delivering the Scottish Government's economic strategy across a region which covers more than half of Scotland.
With around 250 staff, HIE supports hundreds of client businesses and social enterprises; strengthens communities, particularly in fragile areas; develops key sectors, and invests in infrastructure to create a more competitive and low carbon region.
Our priority sectors for growth include Energy, Life Sciences, Food and Drink, Creative Industries, Tourism, Financial and business services and Universities.
You can visit our website at http://www.hie.co.uk follow us on Twitter @HIEScotland and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/highlandsandislandsenterprise
Superfast Britain is a Government programme of investment in broadband and communication infrastructure across the UK. Run by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, this investment helps businesses to grow, creates jobs and will make Britain more competitive in the global race. The portfolio is comprised of three elements:
- £780m to extend superfast broadband to 95% of the UK by 2017
- £150m to provide high speed broadband to businesses in 22 cities
- £150m to improve quality and coverage of mobile phone and basic data network services
Administered on behalf of Government by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), Superfast Britain is transforming Britain by promoting growth, enabling skills and learning, and improving quality of life.
For further information: https://www.gov.uk/broadband-delivery-uk