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'Technical challenges' ahead as Highlands fibre rollout passes another milestone

Thursday, February 18th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Scotland’s fibre broadband programme has now reached 115,000 homes and businesses in the Highlands and Islands.

Work is now underway to connect more areas over the next six months.

Areas included in the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) project for the first time include Symbister in Shetland, Scourie in NW Sutherland and Benbecula on the Outer Hebrides.

Parts of Skye, additional areas in Arran, Port Ellen on Islay and Glenlivet in Moray are also included.

Engineers expect the first fibre connections to be available in many of these areas by the summer as Openreach, BT’s local network business, continues work.

Stuart Robertson, director of digital at the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which is running the DSSB project in the area, said: “It’s great to see the fibre cabinets coming through in more and more locations across the region.

“We are seeing increasingly smaller communities drawn in and are tackling some challenging geographies to reach people.

“Most recent places to see coverage include Weisdale in Shetland which now boasts the UK’s most northerly cabs, Helmsdale in Sutherland, and the first locations in Arran and Millport.”

Many of the areas due for upgrades are connected by ‘exchange only’ lines, which run directly from the telephone exchange to premises, bypassing the street cabinets usually used to roll out fibre-based broadband.

These lines are a legacy of BT’s old copper network and present a different engineering challenge for Openreach.

'Surfing at much higher speeds'

Liz Mallinson, BT Scotland’s fibre broadband director, said: “We’re excited to be bringing fibre technology to more places in the Highlands and Islands, especially as it involves overcoming the technical challenge in the shape of exchange only lines.

“We’re also urging local people to check if they’re among the thousands who can already get high speed services.

“There’s lots of competition in the broadband market, and people may be pleasantly surprised to discover they could be surfing at much higher speeds at a similar cost to their current service.

“Once you’ve tried superfast broadband, you’ll never look back.”

HIE warned that not all properties within some villages would be able to access fibre-based broadband and delivery of the technology in some areas would be staggered.

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