BT HAS STARTED LAYING an undersea fibre cable to the Isles of Scilly in a £3.7m project to provide the first fixed internet connection to the remote archipelago.
The cable is being hauled ashore at Porthcressa Beach on St Mary's, the largest of the five Scilly islands, and will then be connected to the network that has been built by BT engineers on the islands. Fibre services will be available before the end of the year once the final work on the islands is completed.
The connection runs from the mainland at Lands End down to the Isles of Scilly and uses an old, disused internet cable that used to run between Spain, Cornwall and Ireland.
A cable ship, the 12,000-tonne Resolute, was stationed off St Mary's on Wednesday to put the cable in place, having spliced a 100km section of the old cable to cover the distance between the mainland and the islands.
Once up and running the services will mean residents and businesses can get speeds of between 60-80Mbps, a huge improvement on the 2-3Mbps speeds currently on offer from a radio link service provided from the mainland, which could be affected by weather conditions.
Nigel Ashcroft, Superfast Cornwall programme director for Cornwall Development Company, told The INQUIRER that while the Isles of Scilly deployment is one of the most challenging rollouts, it will provide huge benefits.
"This was always the bit of the rollout that gave me headaches," he said. "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."
Jeremy Steventon-Barnes, Superfast Cornwall operations director for BT, agreed. "This is the most challenging broadband project that I've seen, in terms of the remoteness and the logistics of all the things you have to do to get broadband to a year-round population of 2,000 people," he said.
Despite the difficulty, the benefits should be many, with Ashcroft explaining that as the islands are sparsely populated - with only around 2,200 residents - the speeds users receive will remain high even if everyone signs up.
"I expect rapid take-up of the service. I think it will be a world record take-up," he added, touting the benefits of how the speeds could transform the islands.
"This will revolutionse the business of the Isles of Scilly. It will make it possible to run a business on the island in terms of having an excellent connection so the whole sector mix could change over the years as people could consider it a place to invest," he said.
The cable deployment project is a milestone moment in BT's £132m broadband rollout in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which aims to bring fibre services to 95 percent of all premises by the end of 2014.
The work on Wednesday, one of the more unique rollouts in the telecom firm's efforts to bring fibre to the majority of the UK, is the culmination of more than three years of planning, first made public in March 2013.
This has involved dodging shipwrecks that litter the waters surrounding the Isles of Scilly and working alongside many organisations, ranging from the Duchy of Cornwall and the Crown Estate, which owns the beaches, to English Heritage. µ