Fair Isle connected to full fibre broadband

The first businesses on Fair Isle have been connected to full fibre almost two years ahead of schedule, the Scottish Government announced.

A subsea fibre cable stretches 68 miles from the Shetland to Orkney Islands, with Fair Isle reached by a spur line.

Fair Isle is the most geographically remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom. It lies 24 miles south of the Shetland mainland and 27 miles northeast of North Ronaldsay, the most northerly of the Orkney islands.

Administratively, Fair Isle is part of Shetland.

A post office and shop are among Fair Isle businesses which are already connected and all premises on the island can now order the service.

The project has been funded through the Scottish Government’s £404.1 million Reaching 100% (R100) North contract, plus £17.4 million from the UK Government.

In what is believed to be a world first, communications company Openreach had to deploy innovative engineering to boost the signal strength – a super-powered adaption of technology currently delivered in many homes – due to the distance between the islands.

Openreach Chief Engineer for Scotland Fraser Rowberry said: “Regular fibre signals just couldn’t go the distance, so we had to get creative with some world first engineering to transmit life-changing ultrafast broadband over 100 kilometres to islanders.

“We had to do everything differently on Fair Isle, from planning around bird nesting seasons to setting up flat-packed cabins for our crew.

“A big shout-out to the people of Fair Isle for being so welcoming to our team. They’ve been amazing. Now, they’re connected to the world in a whole new way. This will make Fair Isle an even better place to be – for residents, visitors and future generations – and we’d encourage people on the island to upgrade to full fibre.”

Stackhoull Stores and Post Office was connected to full fibre before Christmas. Postmistress Fiona Mitchell said: “We are a small population and want to grow and encourage people to be a part of our community.

“Getting a full fibre connection so that people can more easily work and live here is a major part of that. We need all hands on deck to make the island run.”

The Scottish Government’s Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray said: “I am delighted that we have achieved digital connectivity for Fair Isle almost two years earlier than planned.

“Through our R100 commitment to tackle some of the hardest to access terrain in the country, we are improving the educational and life opportunities available to young people across Scotland.

“This innovative step forward for engineering ensures children on Fair Isle are not left behind.

“Internet speeds rivalling the best in the country are helping create a more attractive place for families and young people to live.

“We committed to invest further in our digital connectivity, despite powers being reserved to Westminster, because we know that by supporting remote working and rural businesses – from Fair Isle jumpers to tourism – we can help to build an island economy which is fair, green and prosperous.”

The Fair Isle project represents the greatest distance that Openreach has transmitted a continuous full fibre signal anywhere in the UK.

Installations were carefully planned on the National Trust for Scotland-protected island, which is home to rare nesting birds and contains habitats of scientific and conservation value.

The R100 programme includes funding worth £591.5 million from the Scottish Government, £54.1 million from BT Group (via Openreach) and £49.5 million from the UK Government.