Two of the most westerly island communities in the UK are now among the best-connected following the introduction of new full-fibre broadband networks.
Grimsay, a small island joined to North Uist and Benbecula by a causeway, as well as Bernera off the north-west coast of Lewis, now have access to high-speed full-fibre networks.
The networks have been built by engineers from Openreach through the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project, led in the area by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
Built using 90 kilometres of fibre cables, the new broadband network is capable of carrying services at 1Gbps, which is around 18.5 times faster than the UK’s current average of 54Mbps.
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Both communities are now part of a select few that can boast full-fibre broadband in the UK, with only 7% of households across the country having access to high-speed connections. Before the introduction of the fibre network, the two communities were been connected to the outside world through a wireless connection over an independent radio network, which only provided a top download speed of around 2Mbps.
Joe FitzPatrick, Scottish Government Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, visited Grimsay to see the positive impact of the new high-speed connections available.
“Many people living here are engaged in traditional industries, with the island renowned for the quality of the seafood caught off its shores,” he said. “Full fibre not only enables local industries to engage fully online, but future-proofs the island for economic development and growth.”
“In a world where technology is a main driver, good connectivity levels the playing field, creating new opportunities and stemming depopulation,” FitzPatrick added.
Already, the new fast broadband connection has brought improvements for residents and businesses. Robin Spratt, a Grimsay local, runs an artisan business with his wife Michelle.
Hebridean Candles makes hand-poured, soy wax candles which are sold in a network of shops across the islands and from a workshop behind their Baymore home. For this business, the impact on the business has been hugely positive so far.
“Before the arrival of full-fibre, we had a satellite broadband system with very limited data. Now when people visit the workshop and want to buy, we can process electronic payments on site,” he explained. “It’s great for business but it also has a big impact on our personal life as now we can access online services like catch-up TV and stay in close contact with our grown-up family.
“There is much discussion in the islands about how to overcome the issue of depopulation, but good connectivity makes life in a remote location much more viable. Sort out the broadband and mobile connectivity and the problem solves itself.”