Across the UK fibre internet connections are coming online. For most locations this involves BT engineers working on green boxes on the side of the road, or in ducts and tunnels, all mostly hidden from sight and without any fanfare.
For those on the Isles of Scilly, though, the arrival of fibre broadband was a much more visual affair, with a 12,000-tonne ship, a yellow snake of buoys, and even a drone shooting images (seen above) all part of the spectacle.
V3 was there to witness all this, along with many residents of the islands, as BT and its partners brought an undersea fibre cable ashore to the largest island of St Mary's, as part of a £3.7m project to hook up the five islands with fibre.
The cable deployment represented the beginning of the end of a three-year project by BT that was probably the most challenging it faced as part of £132m Superfast Broadband deal.
Nigel Ashcroft, Superfast Cornwall programme director for the Cornwall Development Company, said: “This was always the bit of the rollout that gave me headaches. There was no other option but to use fibre but this will help us future proof the islands so they’ll be the best connected off-islands in the world.”
BT had a stroke of luck in the rollout, though, as an old disused fibre cable, that had become redundant as it was overtaken by bigger, fatter cables that could handle more traffic moving around the internet, was lying dormant in the area.
This cable was previously owned by a consortium of telecoms operators (one of which was BT) but after it was decommissioned BT took sole ownership, probably hoping it would one day be a useful asset to have retained.
They were proved right as BT was able to cut the cable down to size for the rollout, saving a great deal of time and money, as Jeremy Steventon-Barnes, Superfast Cornwall operations director for BT, explained.
"This project is only viable because we are reusing this existing cable. A brand new cable...I wouldn’t even want to hazard a number as to what that would cost,” he said.
“The only reason the cable is not used any more is that the capacity demands on big international routes have soared so you have much higher fibre count cables, so this cable has been superseded."
With just 2,200 residents on the Isles of Scilly there's little danger of the residents straining the capacity of the cable, even if speeds of 60-80Mbps are likely.
For those on the islands, such speeds will probably be something of a shock to the system, having had to rely on a 2-3Mbps radio link for web access.
Gaz O’Neill, the owner of the Dibble & Grub café on the seafront of Porthcressa Beach – where the cable was brought ashore – said bringing fibre to the islands will help everyone. “Everybody is behind this as it’s going to affect everyone in a massively positive way. This is not just for us and the residents here, but tourists too who want to stay online and connected even when they’re on holiday,” he said.
The benefits will also extend into whole new areas, according to Amanda Martin, chair of the Isles of Scilly council, who cited telemedicine as one major new area of change.
"It will improve the transmission of data for X-rays to doctors on the mainland and things like that and make life easier for residents, and the NHS, by ensuring easier access to doctors,” she said. “For example, at the moment if someone has a flight to the mainland to see a doctor and it’s foggy, the whole thing falls apart."
With locals gathering at the beach to watch the project unfold it was clear that those on the islands were excited about the prospect of fast internet connections for the first time.
The work isn't quite complete yet, with BT still having to hook the cable up the mainland in Cornwall and finish off some of the inter-island cable connections. Once complete the project should make the Isles of Scilly one of the best connected island communities in the world.
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