SHETLAND is to experience an IT revolution later this year work on laying a superfast cable connecting the isles to the rest of the world got under way on Wednesday.
The £1.3 million project, funded by the Shetland Islands Council with help from Europe, will give the islands 21st century style telecommunications by linking to the fibre optic cable that connects neighbouring Faroe Islands with Scotland.
The project was developed following frustration with British Telecom, whose current set-up based on microwave links is slow and prone to regular disruptions.
SIC development committee vice chairman Alastair Cooper said: “We have been in discussion with British Telecom and with Cable & Wireless for some time to find a solution which provides fibre into Shetland.
“We failed to get a solution acceptable to the community, we therefore decided that we can afford to do it ourselves, by linking into the Faroese fibre optic cable, and today is the first step on the way to that.”
The connection itself is not all that is revolutionary about the project. The method of laying the cable is equally groundbreaking, at least for the UK.
Thanks to American Ditch Witch technology, introduced by contractor Tulloch Developments who invested £55,000 into the circular saw, more than a third of a mile of cable will be laid along the A970 in just one day.
Guy Smith, from Shetland Telecom, explained: “The new cable is pre-loaded into a 16 mm duct, and it goes into a slot in the carriageway that is 100mm deep and 20mm wide. We are looking at doing something like 600 metres a day.
“The old cable was 110mm wide, dug 600mm deep into a 200mm wide trench – you are looking at doing about 20 metres a day. This means a significant cost saving.”
Project managers hope to have the cable connected into the Faroese information super highway by April and offer high speed connections for local customers as early as summer.
Already some businesses such as Dingwall-based Alchemy Plus hope to benefit from the local authority investment. The Highland business plans to build a £12 million data centre in Lerwick, but needs a high speed link to realise its plans.
Others, such as Lerwick based telecom engineering business and internet service provider Shetland Broadband are confident the new investment will have massive spin offs.
Managing director Ian Brown said: “To have a very strong broadband connection into Shetland will open up a lot of opportunities for us such as offering a lot of different services we are not able to do at present.”
Councillor Cooper added: “This will provide a resilient connection with more capacity that Shetland needs today, well into the future.”
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