BT Group, UK-based communications services company, has awarded three firms a £26.9 million (circa USD 44.1 million) contract for an ambitious subsea cabling project which will help deliver fast, fibre broadband to the Highlands and Islands.
The selected companies are: Chelmsford-based Global Marine Systems that will conduct detailed marine route surveys and supply the cables; France-based Orange Marine, contracted to lay around 400 kilometres of subsea cables, while Hampshire-based A-2-Sea Solutions will work onshore connecting the cables to BT’s terrestrial network.
The longest cable will run for nearly 79km under the Minch from Ullapool to Stornoway, with the Western Isles also benefitting from a second link stretching more than 57km between Carnan on South Uist, and Dunvegan on Skye.
Specialist vessels will lay 20 fibre optic submarine cables in a precise operation during May to October next year, providing a fibre broadband backbone which will eventually link communities from Kintyre to Orkney.
The massive engineering effort is part of the £146 million investment project launched with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) in March to bring high-speed fibre broadband to communities across the north of Scotland.
Brendan Dick, director of BT Scotland, said: “Quite simply, it’s the biggest subsea engineering project BT has undertaken in UK territorial waters and is the first ever with so many seabed crossings.
“The size of the task presents a massive challenge, not only because of the number of cables involved but also the fact that the work has to be completed within a single, six-month weather window. The pressure is on but we’re confident that in just over a year’s time, the Highlands and Islands will be set to benefit from its own network of underwater, fibre optic cables.”
HIE’s Stuart Robertson, Director of Digital Highlands and Islands, said: “ The subsea cables are an essential part of bringing high speed broadband to our west coast communities. Their installation is essential in order to reach the 84 per cent coverage target for the region. The fibre network will bring services closer to everyone and will make it easier to provide better broadband to even our hardest to reach areas.”
The subsea work will be carried out by Orange Marine’s cable ship Rene Descartes using the ship’s submersible plough and remotely operated vehicles to bury the double armoured cable in the seabed where seabed sediments allow. The cableship will be backed up by dive support vessels, tugs and a shallow water laying vessel.
The project is by far the most ambitious and challenging rural broadband roll-out BT has undertaken anywhere in the UK. Along with the subsea cables, the company will build more than 800km of new land fibre backbone to complement its existing fibre network, and install hundreds more kilometres of fibre access cable to hundreds of new street cabinets.
Press Release, December 24, 2013; Image: BT