Major disruption to communications in isles caused by technical fault

Major disruption was caused to broadband, mobile phone and landline networks across Shetland for nearly seven hours on Friday after a technical fault in the Orkney island of Sanday hit thousands of users.

Sumburgh Airport was forced to close for a time and coastguard staff had to rely on colleagues in Aberdeen and Stornoway for support because the vast majority of their networks were down.

Scatsta, meanwhile, was able to operate as normal and other emergency services were either unaffected or made use of call diversions.

The problem originated with a power cut in Sanday on Thursday night which, when repaired, is believed to have caused a power surge, blowing a fuse in the BT-operated microwave link that runs from the mainland to Sanday to Fair Isle and then to Mainland Shetland.

It began at 10.30am and, after BT managed to get an engineer to Sanday by 3.30pm, was resolved again at 5pm. The engineer replaced the blown fuse and recharged the back-up battery. However, a team of engineers will travel to Sanday again on Monday to conduct an investigation into what went wrong. One suggestion for the power cut was a lightning strike.

The Orkney islands of Papa Westray, Westray, North Ronaldsay and Sanday itself were knocked out completely, but only some of the links to Shetland were affected. A BT spokesman said congestion on the remaining networks may have given the impression that the network was down everywhere.

The disruption comes at a time of renewed discussion over the broadband link in particular. The SIC recently approved funding for a study into connecting to the high-speed cable laid by the Faroese to mainland Britain which comes ashore at Maywick.

The BT spokesman said that BT intended rolling out its 21st Century network to Shetland by 2011. “Most of Shetland has the same broadband speed as the rest of the UK. We want the new network to be ubiquitous. It hasn’t arrived in Aberdeen yet. It will be built.”


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