ANALYSIS: The Scilly super-cable

ANALYSIS: The Scilly super-cable

Plans are in motion for the revitalisation of a disused subsea cable to connect Cornwall – in the UK’s south west – to the remote Isles of Scilly, as the country edges closer to reaching its target of nationwide broadband coverage.

Stretching 939km between Porthcurno, Cornwall and Santander, Spain, the cable has been lying dormant for eight years and is being upgraded to enable the delivery of superfast broadband to the UK’s remote archipelago in the Celtic Sea.

The project is part of the £132 million Superfast Cornwall initiative, set up between BT, the European Regional Development Fund and Cornwall Council. It is designed to enable fibre broadband access to 95% of homes and businesses in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles by the year end.

Nigel Ashcroft, Superfast Cornwall programme director for Cornwall Development Company – the economic development arm of Cornwall Council – said that the 2,200 residents of the Scilly Isles will benefit hugely from the project.

“Superfast broadband will provide a major boost for local businesses and offer the kind of online opportunities which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago,” Ashcroft said.

A total of £3.7 million is being pumped into the cable, which BT claims is their most ambitious fibre project in Europe to date. “This is the most challenging broadband project that I have seen in terms of the remoteness and the logistics,” said Jeremy Steventon-Barnes, Superfast Cornwall operations director at BT.

“But the fact that we have been able to make use of an existing cable makes a great deal of sense from an environmental and cost point of view.”

The cable had previously been owned by a consortium of operators, including BT, but was decommissioned in 2006 following the increase of capacity demands on larger international routes. The British incumbent then took sole ownership of the cable, and analysts believe the company is primed to complete the development.

“BT’s latest results underline the phenomenal growth in broadband and especially demand for fibre, and BT is the undisputed leader in the UK in this area,” said Paolo Pescatore, analyst at CCS Insight.

BT has cut the cable down to size for the roll-out, saving both time and money; something Steventon-Barnes said would have been the difference between a viable and unviable project.

At the time of writing, BT was in the process of hooking up the cable to the mainland in Cornwall and finalising a number of inter-island cable connections, and Ashton is optimistic about its completion date.

“This will help us futureproof the islands to be the best-connected off-islands in the world,” he said.

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