BT is laying a new fibre optic submarine cable between Orkney and the Scottish mainland to help bring its 21st Century Network to the northern isles.
The 70 km cable will run from Skaill Bay in Orkney under the Pentland Firth to Dunnet Bay, around five miles east of Thurso.
BT has awarded the contract to independent marine engineering company Global Marine Systems Ltd., which began installing the cable last week. Weather permitting, the work should take around three weeks.
Global Marine’s cableship CS Sovereign is using its submersible plough and remotely operated vehicle systems to install the cable up to one metre below the seabed.
The new cable is the latest step towards bringing BT’s 21 Century Network – designed to improve broadband connections – to the islands.
BT has already reached agreement with Faroese Telecom to share part of a new fibre optic submarine cable which has been laid between the Faroe Islands, Orkney and Shetland and the Scottish mainland.
The cable, which comes ashore at Banff, will provide connectivity to the northern isles alongside existing microwave radio links.
BT is investing a significant sum on the new network in Scotland and will be replacing equipment in more than 1,000 exchanges across the nation.
BT Scotland director Brendan Dick said: “This is another major step forward in the massive amount of preparatory work we are progressing so that people living in the northern isles can share in the benefits that our next-generation network will bring.”
Meanwhile, the last areas without broadband access may soon be able to benefit from the service, the Scottish government announced last week.
Thousands more householders and businesses around Scotland will soon be linked to broadband for the first time after a contract worth up to £3.3 million was awarded to Avanti Caledonian Broadband Ltd. to extend affordable broadband services.
The Scottish government recently asked members of the public to identify access difficulties so that the “reach” problem – where people cannot access broadband due to their distance from an ADSL-enabled telephone exchange – could be addressed.
In total 3,800 eligible households and businesses, including 36 premises in Shetland, registered for connection. The areas in Shetland about to have broadband installed are in Walls, Gott, Hillswick, Voe, Reawick, Skellister, Cunningsburgh, Sumburgh and Baltasound.
Work to connect premises that have been out of reach until now will use a mix of technologies, including satellite and wireless. The programme will begin in July and will be finished by next May.
MSP Tavish Scott has welcomed more homes and businesses in Shetland having access to broadband.
Mr Scott said: “The extension of broadband across Shetland is welcome. I am pleased that the government have accepted my representations on behalf of many constituents who have been ‘broadband-less’ up until now.
“I have no doubt there will still be areas across the isles where coverage is not yet complete or adequate while there are still problems in some parts of Shetland with the standard of broadband service.
“Both broadband and mobile phones are a fact of everyday life now. We take these services for granted. But some don’t have them and I want to work with others to ensure Shetland is fully connected in every possible way.”