News and Case Studies

Read news and articles on the progress of the superfast broadband rollout in Scotland and more.

Deploying broadband on Scottish islands

Monday, 14 August 2023

Following a recent visit to Lismore R100 Stakeholder Director, Duncan Nisbet, gives us an insight into deploying broadband on Scottish islands.

Building broadband infrastructure on our islands is a key component of the Reaching 100% (R100) programme, but it presents a number of logistical challenges to overcome which I’ll dip into in this blog.

Last year, 16 R100 subsea cables were deployed connecting 15 islands to full fibre infrastructure for the first time. This is on top of the 20 subsea cables from the earlier DSSB programme – all which can be viewed on our interactive map.

It’s a significant and timely investment and once the subsea cables are laid the work on land truly comes to the fore.


Much of what this blog covers will be relevant to all islands in the R100 build, but I’ll use Lismore as an example following a recent visit there.

The Mainland to Lismore cable was the final R100 crossing and is also our shortest at just 1.4 km. Lismore itself lies in Loch Linnhe, North-East of Mull in the Argyll & Bute council area. Home to less than 200 people, the island is 15 km long and about 2 km wide and prior to the R100 programme residents were used to broadband speeds of less than 10 Megabits per second (Mbps).

Most of the roads on our islands are single track and to allow for safe working the road often has to close for the duration of the build. Understandably, this has a negative impact on locals and it’s therefore important that the programme liaises with local authorities and communities to give an insight into the expected disruption.

Along with Openreach, our R100 delivery partner, my colleague Steve Wicks and I recently visited Lismore to meet the community, discuss how the programme plans to minimise disruption and look at how residents can indicate their interest in taking up the new broadband service.

Challenges of island build

One of the main challenges we face is getting plant and materials onto the islands and into the communities. Although islands are served by ferries, understanding if they have the capacity is an early consideration and in some cases, we need to use a specialist boat to transport plant and materials.

Securing a safe storage location is important, as is looking after our workforce. Although local sub-contractors are used whenever possible, it’s likely that much of the workforce will be required to travel to the island. With island accommodation at a premium, options off-island are considered, which adds another layer of complexity.

One current example is floating accommodation that can move from island to island as work progresses. This will hopefully limit disruption to locals and free up accommodation for business, especially during the popular tourist season.

Island build

In terms of the build itself, the programme aims to re-use existing infrastructure as much as possible. Where new infrastructure’s required a number of techniques are available; the preferred method being mole-ploughing.

This is where a single piece of equipment buries ducting directly into the ground without the need to dig first. Where conditions don’t allow this, traditional trench and ducting techniques are used.

On Lismore for example, the soil conditions aren’t suited to the mole-plough as the majority of the island is made-up of limestone with a shallow layer of topsoil.

Gauging take-up of service

Beyond the build, we’re trialling a process to better understand the level of demand of service from Lismore residents. State Aid rules allow the programme to fund the wholesale network, but the final connection to the home or business is completed by the service provider on receipt of an order from the resident or business owner. This last step requires a visit by an engineer to install the final broadband connection into the property.

In more urban areas this often doesn’t pose a problem, but in rural settings, particularly on islands, this can lead to delays and so to avoid repeat visits to Lismore in the future, Openreach have created an online facility where islanders can register for a service without commitment.

This new way of working allows engineers to deliver the final connection while they are on the island for the original build, thereby minimising the time between an order being placed and a service going live.

If the Lismore trial proves a success, the R100 programme may look to take a similar approach on other island builds.

As ever, the continued support of the local community is paramount to the success of R100. With the programme delivering near complete coverage of access to full fibre gigabit capable broadband for the very first time on Lismore, and having heard first-hand how residents are anticipating the transformational change, I’m looking forward to taking the learnings from this build to other locations that will enhance the digital lives of residents around our island communities.

Read more of our stories