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New backup in response to comms blackout

BT HAS switched on a new backup network that should improve the resilience of broadband in Shetland and reduce the risk of a repeat of last summer’s network blackout.

On 25 July last year a problem with phone lines caused major disruption for the emergency services and resulted in the closure of Sumburgh Airport.

BT faced strong criticism in the wake of the “completely unacceptable” blackout, which left Shetland Coastguard without contact to the mainland and NHS Shetland having to advise patients requiring medical attention to attend Gilbert Bain Hospital in person.

Now, local politicians’ calls for a backup system have been heeded. BT said on Monday it had switched on a new 10-Gigabit network link which will improve communication services for thousands of households and businesses.

Work began on the new secondary link into Lerwick in October last year, aimed at boosting services and providing “fully resilient, high-speed back-up in the event of a network failure”.

Previous links depended on a common subsea cable linking the islands to the mainland, which lies across one of the busiest shipping lanes in the North Sea.

BT’s general manager for capacity Owen Moody said: “Our new secondary link is without doubt the most complex network solution in our UK network. We’ve used four separate 10G circuits including one from Foroya Telecom and three high-speed Ethernet links from Openreach capable of carrying large volumes of data.

“These four links interconnect via various third-party locations, including Faroese and Icelandic telecom sites and multiple BT buildings, and now perform seamlessly as a single link to deliver full high-speed resilience to Shetland.

“As well as providing an extra route for mobile calls, data and internet traffic, this investment also provides greater capacity to meet growing demand for these services.”

BT Scotland director Brendan Dick said: “After many months of hard work we’re delighted to announce that the new link has gone live today to deliver an improved and fully resilient high-speed service experience for customers in the Shetland Islands.

“Most disruption to our network is caused by extreme weather, which often particularly affects the more remote parts of Scotland, so we’re especially pleased to have completed this extremely complex project before winter sets in.”

Last summer’s five-hour blackout was caused by a blown fuse at BT’s Wideford Hill radio transmitter in Orkney.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, who was among those calling for a new backup system, welcomed Monday’s announcement.

“BT’s investment to upgrade their systems reflect earlier network failures which left Shetland without telephone links. So this is an important step in improving the service that we all depend on,” he said.