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BT connects first Isles of Scilly customers to superfast broadband

BT has connected the first customers on the Isles of Scilly to superfast broadband, delivering download speeds of up to 80Mbps. 

The Superfast Cornwall project has seen Openreach engineers connect thousands of homes across the county to next-gen broadband services. It was thought that islands, lying 28 miles off of the Cornish coast, wouldn’t benefit from a superfast fixed-line upgrade due to the challenging terrain. 

BT was able to repurpose an unused 939-kilometer seabed cable between Porthcurno and Santander, Spain in order to create a link to the islands.

BT connects first Isles of Scilly customers to superfast broadband
A scintillating aerial view of the Scilly Isles

Bringing superfast broadband to the Scilly Isles has been described as the biggest engineering project of its kind in the UK.

Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT, said: “The arrival of fibre broadband on the Isles of Scilly, England’s most remote community, is a landmark event. It is a wonderful example of what is being achieved by BT in partnership with the public sector to bring this exciting technology to locations across the UK, which would have been considered beyond reach just a few years ago.”  

Work began on the project this May and saw a robotic submarine cutting the cable and a 12,184 tonne cable ship moving the link from its position on the ocean floor. The cable was pulled ashore in July and since then work has begun on siting street cabinets.

New fibre optic cables have been laid from St. Mary’s, the main island, to Tresco and between Tresco and Bryher.

Following on from work in the Devonshire village of Northlewnew microwave radio links have been used to provide the same fibre broadband services for St. Agnes and St. Martins.

Now the first customers are starting to see the benefits of the huge operation. The Star Castle Hotel, a converted sixteenth century fortress on St. Mary’s, is now using a superfast connection to improve its hotel WiFi service and update its website. 

Zoe Parry, assistant manager, said: “It is so much faster to send large files by email. Previously, it took nearly ten minutes to send one photo to our designer on the mainland. This morning, I sent two large image files in less than 30 seconds.”

Andrew May, managing director of flower farm Scented Narcissi added: “The arrival of fibre broadband on Scilly is fantastic news for our flower farm business. It will allow us to have better communications with our customers, as well as save the business time and money by allowing us to streamline some of our business operations.

“This is likely to lead to extra jobs at Scented Narcissi over time and a bright outlook as we embrace the digital future.”

Previously, average broadband speeds on the islands ranged between 3-4Mbps. FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) connections will be able to deliver top speeds of 80Mbps – although most ISPs including BT, Sky, TalkTalk will advertise 76Mbps as the maximum superfast speed. 

It’s expected that over 2,200 premises on the islands will be able to benefit from superfast broadband once the £132 million Superfast Cornwall project is complete in March 2015.