BT has overcome uniquely challenging conditions to bring fibre broadband to the Isles of Scilly, making the region one of the best connected set of islands in the world.
The switch-on marks the completion of a £4m project envisioned in 2013, and began this summer when the cable laying ship Resolute brought fibre ashore on the main island of St Mary's, as witnessed by V3.
Since then, BT has overseen the laying of the cable between the Isles of Scilly and the UK mainland. The cable will bring speeds of 80Mbps to the 2,200 inhabitants, 10 times faster than previous services.
BT has also connected the islands together, laying cable between St Mary’s and Tresco and between Tresco and Bryher. The islands of St Agnes and St Martin's will receive services via radio links from St Mary’s running off the fibre network.
Ranulf Scarbrough, the director of the Cornwall Superfast Broadband Programme at BT, told V3 that the use of radio links was required due to the challenging nature of the seabed around these two islands.
“The sea bottom around St Agnes is particularly tricky as it’s very rocky and so you can get issues with cables suspended between rocks and they could get damaged in winter storms. St Martin’s has similar issues," he said.
BT also had to contend with numerous ship wrecks that litter the waters around the Isles of Scilly - such as the Horsa, which ran aground in 1893, pictured below.
Even when these underwater challenges were overcome, getting the fibre rolled out on land was not straight forward either, as Scarbrough explained.
“The build was challenging not just because there are lots of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) but also because it was virtually impossible to get everything we needed there,” he said.
“Normally we have our vans and all the kit we need but we couldn’t do that, so logistically it was very challenging.”
Some local businesses have started using the high-speed services already, such as the Star Castle Hotel on St Mary’s. Assistant manager Zoe Parry explained that it had a positive effect immediately.
“The high speed fibre connection is having a big impact on our productivity. For example, it is so much faster to send large files by email. Previously, it took nearly 10 minutes to send one photo to our designer on the mainland.
"This morning, I sent two large image files in less than 30 seconds. It is also so much faster to carry out everyday operations online, such as updating our website."
The improved broadband should ensure that even in the worst weather conditions the islanders remain connected to the outside world. The importance of this was underlined by the event to celebrate the switch-on.
BT CEO Gavin Patterson and Lord Ahmad, parliamentary under secretary for Communities and Local Government, were supposed to visit the islands to take part in the official switch-on.
However, bad weather meant their plane was unable to land on the islands, despite two laps of the island hoping for the clouds to clear. Instead the two men had to appear via video link-up from Newquay.
The switch-on comes in the same month that the government revealed that its funding has helped bring fibre broadband services to 1.5 million homes and businesses that would otherwise have missed out on commercial broadband deployments.
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