Fixed line broadband is available either as standard (ADSL) broadband, or fibre optic. The two systems are separate, and customers have to choose the broadband package that offers them the service they want from an Internet Service Provider.
ADSL uses telephone lines to transmit data from the telephone exchange to your home or business. The speed of your connection will depend on the distance to the exchange.
Fibre broadband, often referred to as superfast, uses fibre optic cables to transfer data. It is much faster in terms of the data it can transfer. It can be much easier to perform tasks that involve a lot of data – like watching films or transferring large files. More devices can be used at once.
The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme is rolling out fibre broadband to many areas of the Highlands and Islands which weren’t going to be reached by the commercial market. It comes in two types; Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC – this is the most common variety) and Fibre to the Premises (FTTP). See ‘How the Technology Works’ for more information.
Can I get fibre broadband?
Fibre broadband is now available to over 200,000 homes and businesses in the Highlands and Islands, in more than 240 towns and villages. These services are available both as a result of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project and through BT's own commercial roll-out.
It may be that you can already get it. Did you know that when it is available you will have to order it? Fibre based broadband is entirely separate from current ‘ADSL’ services, so you won’t just be automatically upgraded.
In our ‘Can I get it’ section on this website there are three ways to gain an overview of what is happening with roll-out:
1. Put your telephone number or postcode area in our interactive map www.hie.co.uk/fibre It gives you an idea of whether roll-out is happening in your area, and a rough timescale for the first services going live. Please note that this gives you an idea of the areas we are in – not always the actual villages. Unfortunately, just because we are working in your area, it doesn't mean you will definitely be drawn into the programme. It's not until the cabinets are in place that we can specifically provide information on services available. The exchange buildings themselves aren't relevant in this roll-out.
2. If you want a wider overview of how roll-out is progressing you can see a list of areas where we are currently working. There is an area map underneath the interactive checker at www.hie.co.uk/fibre If services are available we have listed the cabinet numbers.
3. In our news section www.hie.co.uk/digitalnews there is an update for every local authority area. This gives an overview of where services are live and what is in planning.
How do I check availability and order?
Where fibre is available the interactive map www.hie.co.uk/fibre will give you an indication of the available download speed.
If you have broadband just now you won’t be changed over to fibre optic broadband automatically, it is an entirely separate product. You have to order from an internet service provider. You can choose your provider as the fibre network is open on a wholesale basis to all, although not all choose to offer fibre in all locations. So if one provider says you can’t order try another!
It’s worth shopping around for the best deal for you. You can use comparison websites to look at what’s available in terms of packages – providers offer a variety of speed and price points.
If fibre is available for your line the checker will give you an indication of the kinds of speed you might expect www.hie.co.uk/fibre
For those connected to a fibre cabinet the speed of service you get is dependent on your distance from your cabinet. In general if the copper wiring from the cabinet to your home is 1km or less you are likely to see superfast speeds from around 24 Mbps up to 76 Mbps. If you are up to 2kms away you may see an uplift depending on your current speed - but after that distance service falls away quite sharply and you may not see a benefit.
Where the checker indicates you may not be able to get superfast speeds because you are too far away, it is possible that you could still see some improvement in speed compared to your current broadband. You should check with Internet Service Providers if they have any products which will deliver faster services.
It is worth shopping around - not all ISPs offer the same products.
What will happen when I order fibre broadband?
Your internet service provider will give you all the information about the change-over. For those with an existing landline, and who are getting a service from a local telecoms cabinet, the process is fairly simple. An engineer may or may not have to visit your home depending on the set up required. It is likely you will be provided with a new hub/router for inside the house.
Work will be carried out at the fibre cabinet (where the service comes from) by an engineer to link your phone line and the fibre cable together. The service runs along your existing phone line to the house.
Some customers may have a ‘fibre to the premises’ service available. This is where the fibre cable is run all the way to your home. The provider will discuss any additional requirements to get this service for your home/business.
Do I need a phone line to order fibre broadband?
Yes. See our ‘how the technology works’ for more information, but in most cases the broadband service runs along your phone line from the telecoms cabinet.
Is fibre broadband more expensive than my current broadband?
The cost of fibre broadband packages in the Highlands and Islands are the same as other parts of the UK. Depending on what you currently pay you may find the price is very similar for faster speeds. You can try comparison websites if you want to shop around for the best deal.
What to do when orders go wrong – the checker says I can get fibre but I can’t?
If the checker says you can get a service and then you find you can’t order or can’t get a fibre service after ordering, there are things you can do.
- If the checker says fibre is available but your provider says you can’t order, ask why. Is it that the provider doesn’t offer fibre services on this cabinet? It may be another provider will. Try comparison websites to compare availability.
- Have you placed an order and then the provider can’t connect you? Again ask for a clear reason why. If they can’t resolve the problem, please follow the service provider’s complaints procedure. If you are unhappy with the service provider’s response or customer service Ofcom has advice here
- If your order can not be fulfilled for a technical reason, you have complained to your provider and you still can’t get a service, then we’d like to hear from you at our email firstname.lastname@example.org
We’d like to know where there are technical difficulties which stop customers ordering from cabinets delivered through the project. Where we can’t help resolve the problem, we want to ensure that everyone who still needs better broadband is part of future plans.
The checker says I’m connected to a fibre cabinet but my line may be too long to benefit. What does that mean?
If you check your details on the interactive map www.hie.co.uk/fibre and you get a message that says you may be too far away to benefit, it is still a good idea to check what is available with your internet service provider.
It may be that while you can’t get a superfast speed you may be able to get better broadband than you currently have through the fibre network. Not all ISPs offer fibre for those who can’t get at least 15 Mbps, but some do. (This includes BT, Plusnet, Sky and Zen)
The speed of broadband available is unique to your line. It varies because fibre broadband services travel from the fibre broadband cabinet, along your phone line to your house. Your broadband speed is dependent on the length of the line from the cabinet to your home.
As a rough rule of thumb if your line is less than 1km you are likely to see superfast speeds of between 24 and 76 Mbps. If you are up to 2kms away you may see an uplift depending on your current speed - but after that distance service falls away quite sharply and you may not see any benefit.
As technology develops it is possible this may be improved, there are trials currently taking place in some areas of the region to test long range services.
All customers who can’t get superfast speeds will be part of the future project which aims to deliver at least 30 Mbps to everyone by 2021. See ‘What happens if I can’t get superfast broadband through this project’ below.
The checker says broadband is in the area but isn’t available for me
In most cases fibre broadband is provided from cabinets. Depending on the size of your area there may be more than one cabinet being built to create the local network, and these can come through in stages. If you want to know if work is on-going in your area, our local authority update documents www.hie.co.uk/digitalnews give an overview of areas where we hope to see some more coverage.
The level of detail available depends on what stage the roll-out is at. We don’t know for sure what individual premises will benefit from fibre broadband roll-out until the infrastructure is in place. Roll-out under the current contract will continue until the end of the 2017-18 financial year.
Every line is unique and even in areas where we are working not everyone will be part of the network, and for those who are too far from their fibre connection there may be little or no benefit in speed available.
See ‘What happens if I can’t get superfast broadband through this project?’
The checker says my cabinet is at capacity, what does that mean?
Openreach aims to provide extra capacity as soon as possible for those parts of the network where there’s a high level of demand. Catering for additional demand in an area can take time to plan, there is a need to increase the infrastructure to accommodate the extra equipment needed and, in a number of cases, it may even be necessary to supply an additional fibre cabinet.
If you can, register with your provider for fibre services when they are available. Alternatively keep an eye on the checker at monthly intervals to see when services are available again.
I am in the green area on the interactive map, why can’t I order?
The map is divided up into exchange areas. The green exchange colour indicates that fibre infrastructure work is happening in that area. However, the project is not able to reach every premises, even in areas where roll-out is happening.
Some places, particularly those where homes are more scattered may not be reached by the new cabinets. There may be some people who are connected to the fibre enabled cabinet but where the line is too long to bring any benefit.
Every line is unique and we don’t know for sure what individual premises will benefit from fibre broadband roll-out until the infrastructure is in place. Roll-out under the current contract will continue until at least the end of the 2017-18 financial year.
My exchange is enabled for fibre, why can’t I order?
The exchange buildings themselves are much less significant in the fibre infrastructure than they were in the previous ADSL broadband services.
Fibre broadband services come from fibre cabinets, or in some cases direct to the premises from fibre connection points. Your line has to be attached, and close enough to one of these points to be able to benefit.
The project has built as much infrastructure as possible within communities with the available budget. The Scottish Government is looking at ways to provide services to all as part of the next project.
See the ‘Can I get fibre broadband’ question to see ways you can get an idea on whether roll-out is still continuing in your area.
Can I get a date for when a local cabinet will go live?
We try to provide as much information as possible on the roll-out of fibre services across the region, and can indicate the areas where work is started and still to be done. You can see latest local authority updates on our website at www.hie.co.uk/digitalnews
Specific cabinets do not have individual target dates. In a project of this size where Openreach is delivering hundreds of cabinets, flexibility is required to ensure the programme keeps moving.
Some infrastructure has been added to the programme as a result of additional funds (due to good take-up and efficient delivery of the programme). In many cases this may still be in planning, with delivery into 2018.
It is anticipated that the current roll-out will continue until at least March 2018.
I have received a postcard/email saying I can order, but my provider says I can’t. What do I do?
It will clarify whether your number is part of the network. If it says you are too far from the cabinet to benefit then this may be the case. If it says you should benefit it may be your provider doesn’t offer the service in your area, while another might. Try a comparison website for available packages.
If the checker says you are not part of the network then you may have received the marketing information in error.
The checker says you are exploring solutions in my area – what does that mean?
There are some areas of the Highlands and Islands, often with small numbers of premises, which can be scattered over some distance, that have been too challenging to reach within this project. It is highly unlikely that these areas will be reached as part of the current contract.
This does not mean these areas have been forgotten. See ‘What happens if I can’t get superfast broadband through this project?’
My neighbour can order and I can’t, how can that be?
Every line is unique and even neighbours circumstances can be different. Please put your phone number into the checker and if it says services should be available follow our advice in ‘What to do when orders go wrong’. If the checker indicates that you are not part of the network, it may be there is additional coverage still to come.
If there isn’t, please see ‘What happens if I can’t get superfast broadband through this project?’
There is a cabinet close to me, can I ask Openreach to be moved into it?
Openreach is delivering the network to reach as many people as they can, and there can be a variety of reasons why a premises is connected into the network in a specific way, or hasn’t been connected.
Unfortunately, at this stage in the project we can't re-network individual lines. It may be in the next stage of roll-out, when Digital Scotland is looking to help all premises access 30 Mbps, that individual lines will be re-routed to achieve higher results.
What happens if I can’t get superfast broadband through this project
Roll-out is continuing in the Highlands and Islands until at least the end of financial year 2017-18. We will reach as far as we can with the current contract – likely around 86% of premises. You can check our news section www.hie.co.uk/digitalnews for the local authority area overview of on-going work.
While the project is making a huge difference to broadband coverage in the Highlands and Islands the current contract can’t reach everyone.
The project has been designed to reach as many people as possible as quickly as possible within the available budget. Find out more about how the project coverage was identified in ‘How did you decide where to roll-out the fibre for this project?’
For those who won’t get better broadband through the current project the Scottish Government has made a commitment that 100% of premises in Scotland will have access to superfast broadband with a download speed of 30 Mbps or above by 2021.
What options do I have now for better connectivity?
There are options emerging in various areas of the Highlands and Islands to bring services to the hardest to reach areas. Commercial operators are also delivering superfast services using wireless networks.
4G mobile coverage is set to increase during 2017 across the region. This is being delivered commercially by the operators.
For those who currently receive less than 2Mbps download the Better Broadband scheme developed by the UK government provides a subsidy to those eligible for up to £350 towards the installation of satellite or wireless.
Some areas with access to private funding are working with BT’s Community Fibre Partnership to develop projects where they will pay for their own fibre infrastructure. Find details here
Is there funding available for businesses or communities to build their own fibre connections?
The Scottish Government is currently drawing up plans for the Reaching 100% (R100) project. Its aim is to deliver at least 30 Mbps to all by 2021. Until the arrangements for this are confirmed it is not clear whether additional public funds will be available for broadband infrastructure projects.
However, if your current broadband download speed is below 2Mbps and you aren’t going to get fibre within the year, you can apply for a ‘better broadband’ voucher for up to £350 per premises funded through Broadband Delivery UK.
This helps with costs of installation for a satellite, wireless system or BT partnership project, where available. See the details here
How did you decide where to roll-out the fibre for the current project?
The project, in line with others across the UK, is being delivered on a value for money principle. This means that it has been designed to reach as many people as possible as quickly as possible within the available budget.
What this means in practice is that it is that the infrastructure is built where the most premises can benefit from it. Places we have been unable to reach in the current roll-out are often in more scattered communities, where there are low numbers of homes some distance from each other. See our section on ‘How the Technology works’ for an explanation of the roll out.
The project in the Highlands and Islands has been one of the most challenging in the UK. The cost of delivering broadband to some of our premises in the region is amongst the highest in the country, not surprising when you consider our lower population numbers, land mass and the technical challenges of reaching some of our geographical areas.
We’ve had more to do than in other areas as we’ve seen less commercial roll-out. In the rest of Scotland BT and Virgin rolled out commercial services to around 71% of the premises. In the Highlands and Islands the commercial investment (BT only) was limited to 21% - none of the Islands authorities had any commercial coverage at all.
We have made good progress. We have a core network across the region, including subsea connections to reach many of our island communities for the first time. In 2013 only 4% of premises in the region could access fibre, we have now passed the 84% contract target figure.
More than 160,000 homes and businesses which would not have been reached without the investment are now part of the fibre network.
As a result of good take-up and efficient delivery the project team has been able to re-invest in the current roll-out. It is set to reach at least 86% of premises by the end of the 2017-18 financial year.
Have you taken the fibre broadband to ‘easy’ locations – and forgotten about those in harder to reach areas?
We know it’s frustrating to see better broadband come closer, but not quite reach you. The available budget for this first roll-out in the region is making a dramatic difference to connectivity, but it can’t reach everyone.
The project has reached communities of all shapes and sizes – from small communities on many of our island communities, to businesses in our rural villages and to homes on the outskirts of our larger towns where even there broadband speeds were below 1Mbps.
There are no easy locations in the region, the commercial market had identified that it could only viably deliver services to parts of eight of our larger towns. Nowhere north of Dingwall.
Everyone in the Highlands and Islands wants and deserves a useable broadband service. This phase of roll-out has done as much as possible to get better broadband to as many people as possible.
There is further to go. See our What happens if I can’t get superfast broadband through this project FAQ.
With so much to do, and like every rural contract in the UK, the contract was procured on a value for money basis. The new network takes many aspects into account including existing infrastructure, technical and physical feasibility, and ensuring the people of the Highlands and Islands get best value for the investment.
Even where we can’t reach you just now, the project does have a benefit. The new fibre backbone is reaching into the Highlands and Islands and will make finding alternative solutions more likely.
Could the project not just have replaced copper lines with fibre optic and reached everyone?
There are areas of the region where 'Fibre to the Premises' will be used to deliver broadband services. The cost of building fibre cables to every property in the region is huge and was certainly beyond the current project’s budget.
Has there been public consultation with communities about the network?
Public consultation was carried out to identify areas without commercial superfast coverage. These areas all became part of an ‘intervention area’.
The aim of the initial project has been to maximise the numbers of premises reached within this area with available contract budget, and ensuring geographical spread. There was a commitment that every local authority area in the region would see at least a 70-75% coverage level of total homes and businesses. The location of infrastructure to fulfil this has been determined by BT Openreach, taking into account many factors including the existing network, regulations, technology available and ensuring best value for the public purse.
Scottish Government’s aim is that everyone will have access to services which provide 30Mbps or more by 2021.
I have moved into a ‘new build’ house can you help me get fibre broadband?
The intervention area for the current contract was agreed in 2012. Premises built after this time are not part of the project area. Connectivity for new builds should be managed, just like the provision of other services, by the developer.
There is a process in place for developers of all sizes to discuss connectivity with Openreach. Find more here.
What is Reaching 100% (R100) and what stage is it at?
For those who won’t get better broadband through the current project the Scottish Government has made a commitment that 100% of premises in Scotland will have access to superfast broadband with a download speed of 30 Mbps or above by 2021.
The Digital Scotland team is working to explore the financial and technical challenges of bringing superfast to more people. This project is known as Reaching 100% (R100). A review of all premises and a public consultation has taken place to ensure all stakeholders and bidders have been able to input to validate the intervention area.
A notice will be published on Public Contracts Scotland – Tenders (“PCS-Tender”) and the Official Journal of the European Union to allow suppliers to apply for the opportunity to bid to deliver extended NGA broadband coverage. This is likely to start during Autumn 2017.
How does the technology work?
There are three main programmes of work to build the network: backhaul, subsea and access build.
The backhaul is the fibre backbone which has been built by engineers. It stretches from Campbeltown in Argyll to Brae in Shetland via new network nerve centres in dozens of towns including main settlements such as Oban, Fort William, Aviemore and Ullapool.
To create the new backbone more than 800 kilometres of fibre have been installed - enough to cross the Skye Bridge 1,400 times or run from top to bottom of Ben Nevis 595 times. The new sections linked into 1100km of existing cable across the region.
This network is vital for improved connectivity in the region. Without it broadband and other services which require backhaul, like mobile services, would be impossible or limited. It creates a vast infrastructure across the Highlands and Islands which can be built on into the future.
Installation was separated into 80 different sections. Every mile of the route needed to be surveyed – taking into account factors such as sites of historic, scientific, and natural interest and features such as rail tracks, crossings and bridges. Much of the fibre cable was be ploughed into the ground.
The summer of 2014 saw BT embark on the biggest subsea cabling project In the UK. Engineers laid 400km of subsea cables over 20 crossings to remote islands during one peak weather season, from May-October.
Surveys of landing points took place all along the west coast.
It was a mammoth and unprecedented undertaking – it’s the biggest subsea engineering project BT has undertaken in the UK and is the first ever with so many seabed crossings.
The longest cable runs 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.
The subsea cables run between the following areas: Largs – Millport; Kilchattan Bay – Millport; Rothesay – Toward; Kilfinan – Lochgilphead; Campbeltown – Shiskine; Corrie - W. Kilbride; Jura - Port Askaig; Glenbarr - Port Ellen; Jura – Ormsary; Kilchoan – Tobermory; Craignure – Oban; Ardgour – Onich; Stornoway – Ullapool; Lochmaddy – Leverburgh; Carnan – Dunvegan; Ardvasar – Mallaig; Dervaig – Scarinish; Lochboisdale – Eriskay; Eriskay - North Bay; Evie - Westray
Access BuildWith the fibre backbone is in place a spider's web of additional cable has spread across the Highlands and Islands to connect local communities.
The way premises are connected varies, but the method for the majority will be through Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) technology. With this, BT overlays the copper network that runs from the local telephone exchange to street cabinets with fibre. A single fibre can carry a great deal more information than copper wiring and does so in a far shorter space of time with minimal loss of signal power.
Fibre to the cabinet offers wholesale broadband speeds of up to 76 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream. As BT works in each area their planners model the infrastructure to reach as many people as possible. The exchanges themselves have become less important as we put in new cabinet infrastructure, and many customers currently connected to the exchange are being re-networked. See our ‘What are Exchange Only lines’.
Where roll-out is happening it can come in stages. Where towns and villages are already served by telecoms cabinets we may draw them in and build a new fibre cabinet alongside.
Engineers will also lay some Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), which offers wholesale speeds of up to 330Mbps. It uses fibre all the way from the exchange right into customers' homes and businesses.
Ethernet, which can offer major cost and speed benefits for medium-sized or large businesses, will become much more widely available and offer a more affordable solution for businesses.
Even where the infrastructure can’t reach you just now, the project does have a benefit. The new fibre backbone will reach deep into the Highlands and Islands and will make finding alternative solutions more likely.
What are Exchange Only lines?
Telecoms in the Highlands and Islands are in general organised in two ways. Customers either get phone services direct from the exchange (Exchange Only) lines, or from green cabinets placed on streets or verges.
The engineering work which needs to be done to connect customers to a fibre service is very different depending on which of these you have.
Where there is an existing telecoms cabinet in a project roll-out area the process is relatively simple. A new fibre cabinet is built beside the telecoms cabinet, and when someone who gets their service from that cabinet orders fibre, the phone line is linked to the fibre cable. The fibre based broadband service then runs along your existing phone line to the house.
What if you get your telecoms service direct from the exchange? The exchange buildings themselves do not deliver fibre services. In areas where roll-out is happening engineers re-network as many customers’ lines as possible into a cabinet. In some cases this involves building both a telecoms and a fibre cabinet, although increasingly we have ‘all in one’ cabinets that have both phone lines and fibre cabling.
Unfortunately, not all EO customers can be connected to a cabinet in the current roll out. This can be for a variety of technical reasons, including that some premises will be too far away from their nearest cabinet to benefit.
There was a perception that all of those connected to an exchange in the Highlands and Islands would be missed from the roll-out. This isn’t the case. Around half the premises brought into the fibre network in HIE's project were previously exchange only lines. The project is building hundreds of new fibre cabinets and premises' phone lines are being re-routed.
What difference will fibre broadband make?
The difference you could see in your day to day online activity could be significant, particularly depending on the broadband you have just now. Some people in the region already have reasonable speeds, for others it’s tricky to download files or see your favourite programme on a watch again service.
Fibre is the most advanced broadband technology there is and it provides the fastest and most reliable connection available in the world today.
The project allows us to create a future proofed network. While you might be happy enough just now, you may want to consider how you could do more with fibre or how it might benefit you into the future – particularly as the number of data hungry products online continue to grow.
Better access to the fibre backhaul has also opened up opportunities for mobile operators to extend their data services in the region.
Fibre broadband is a social and economic driver – opening up opportunities for existing companies and attracting new businesses to our communities. It’s important we have the infrastructure that will allow them to work flexibly, maximise efficiencies, and compete globally from all across the region.
Benefits of fibre based broadband include:
• Fibre is considered to provide faster and more reliable broadband, regardless of how many people in your home or office are all online at the same time.
• Internet speeds of up to 80 Mbps (or even up to 330 Mbps where you have fibre to your premise.)
• Capability to connect with friends, colleagues, customers in new ways – saving money by using internet based programmes for video or audio calls
• Faster upload and download times
• Improved efficiency with access to latest business software and ways to share data online. This could be anything from sharing calendars and diaries to cloud accounting services or data storage.
• Flexible working and studying from home
• Access to public services, including health care from the comfort of your own home
Will any new jobs be created or existing jobs protected as a result of the work?
In order to cope with increased demand from customers, BT has already increased recruitment in Scotland including employing additional people in Openreach. BT anticipates that during the four years of the build programme a significant engineering workforce, in the hundreds, will be required with associated economic benefits to the local communities.
In the longer term, BT expects to create a number of jobs in the Highlands and Islands during and after the completion of the programme.
I’m a business, and connectivity is a priority. What can I do?
The introduction of fibre to the region changes the face of broadband connections in the region.
For domestic and small business customers ‘fibre to the cabinet’ technology delivers download speeds of up to 80 Mbps, with ‘fibre to the premise’ up to 330 Mbps. The increased upload can also be very useful for businesses uploading material or moving files.
If the internet is a vital part of your business, and fibre is not available you may wish to consider satellite or wireless services.
Larger businesses may wish to look at the business packages available from Internet Service Providers (ISPs). A domestic broadband solution available through a fibre cabinet may not meet your needs. Business packages offer specific benefits and service level agreements.
Leased lines are available over copper and also over fibre (Ethernet). Dedicated Ethernet lines have major benefits for businesses and offers speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbits). At its top rate, Ethernet can transmit an astonishing 10 billion bits of information per second.
The investment in fibre in the region will result in Ethernet becoming much more widely available.
In order to check what services are available to you, and the costs, you can speak to a communications provider, or telecommunications consultant.
What else is HIE doing to support digital?
HIE’s activity around this project is wider than providing the infrastructure. Over the past years HIE has worked with a number of partners to support businesses and communities to make the most of online opportunities. This has included workshops and events across the region.