The £410 million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband initiative is celebrating the completion of a major subsea telecoms project with BT which will bring faster fibre broadband to Scotland’s most remote communities.

The Digital Scotland partners were in Millport, on the Isle of Cumbrae, this week to mark the successful installation of 250 miles of fibre optic cabling across 20 seabed crossings. It has been hailed by BT as the most complex sub-sea engineering challenge it has ever undertaken in UK waters.

Cable laying ship the Rene Descartes landing broadband cable at Tobermory, Inner Hebrides. Image credit: Sam Jones/HIE
Cable laying ship the Rene Descartes landing broadband cable at Tobermory, Inner Hebrides. Image credit: Sam Jones/HIE

Millport is one of 40 island and mainland locations, stretching from Orkney to Kintyre, which form essential links for a fibre network being built to bring high-speed fibre broadband to 84 percent of the Highlands and Islands by the end of 2016.

The £26.9 million subsea project is part of the £146 million Digital Highlands and Islands rollout which will make faster, more reliable services available to more than 150,000 premises across the region’s mainly rural communities for the first time.

Scotland's deputy first minister John Swinney said: “Today marks an incredibly important step in the completion of the most complex ever underwater engineering that Scotland has seen. It is a hugely impressive technological feat that work has been completed in such a short timescale.

“In the coming months, thanks to the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme, many island communities will start to benefit from fibre broadband – that otherwise would not have received coverage."

Work will now continue on land to complete the main network, linking the subsea connections together. The first island communities to connect directly as a result of the new subsea links will go live during spring next year. Local people will have access to fibre broadband speeds of up to 80mbps, around 10 times faster than the current top speeds available on most Scottish islands, many of which are currently connected by radio links.

The subsea rollout work started in July, with the contract carried out for BT by French specialist cable laying firm Orange Marine. Its ship, the 14,000-tonne Rene Descarte (pictured), with its submersible plough, remotely operated vehicles and other support vessels buried double-armoured cable in the seabed.

As well as the subsea work, the onshore activity to connect the cables to BT’s terrestrial network is being being carried out by Hampshire-based A-2-Sea Solutions.

The longest subsea route is nearly 50 miles long under the Minch from Ullapool to Stornoway, with the shortest covering the one mile leap between Ardgour on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula and Onich, south of Fort William.

The Digital Scotland rollout consists of two projects – one covering the Highlands and Islands area and the other covering the rest of Scotland, with more than 750,000 premises to benefit across the country.