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Broadband and You

Find the answers to all of your connectivity questions.

Do you have the broadband you want? As technology changes and there are more choices on how you get connected, how do you know if you’ve got access to the best deal speeds available to meet your needs? You don’t have to be an expert in broadband technology. Here are some tips to help you get the service you need.

  1. Check what’s available compared to what you have.
  • What do you have now? – Check the name of your package, is it ADSL or a fibre package, use a speedchecker to see if the upload and download speeds match what you’d expect? Remember to test speed at your router by wiring the device to the router. If your wifi is a problem consider whether an extender or powerline might help.

  • Use our checker to find out what technology is available through the national network. How does this compare with what you’re getting? If it looks like you should be able to get more ask your provider if there are any options for you. Don’t forget you can also check other providers online, all providers don’t provide all services across all areas.

  • If you want the bigger picture, you can also research what’s available through mobile 4G home broadband, whether there are wireless providers near you, and what’s available through satellite services. As well as speed and price, remember to consider things like installation costs and whether the data you get is limited or unlimited.
  1. Don’t assume changing to something faster means more expensive. Where fibre ultrafast and superfast services are available, you can still choose from a variety of speed and price packages. Many are around about the same cost cost as you will be paying now.

  2. Remember all service providers are different. If you shop around you may find that as well as different price points, some providers offer more services than others. For instance, even where the technology is available, some internet service providers do not currently provide ‘fibre to the premises’ services.

Your questions answered

Want to know more about fibre? Our FAQs explain how the technology works, what you can expect when you order, and latest information on what's happening for those who can't get fibre.

What is fibre broadband?

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.

How the technology works

There have been 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.
It creates a vast infrastructure across the Highlands and Islands which can be built on into the future.

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. 
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.

Access Build

With the fibre backbone 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. The project has built over 1,000 street cabinets across the region, bringing fibre closer to users. 

FTTC offers wholesale broadband speeds of up to 76 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload. The service is delivered through your phone line, and the speed available depends on the length of your line from the cabinet.

We are also increasingly using Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), which offers wholesale speeds of up to 330 Mbps. It uses fibre all the way from the exchange right into customers' homes and businesses.

Additional commercial level services are available more widely, including Ethernet. it offers major cost and speed benefits for medium-sized or large 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.

Can I get fibre broadband?

Mainstream fixed fibre broadband is now available to over 235,000 homes and businesses in the Highlands and Islands.

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's available you will have to order it? Fibre based broadband is entirely separate from current ‘ADSL’ services, so you won’t be automatically upgraded.

You can find out what is available to you on our checker. Put in your telephone or postcode details.

Broadband and digital infrastructure

How do I order?

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 the checker says fibre should be available and 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 speed and price points.

Ofcom currently has seven accredited members of the price comparison scheme for phone, broadband and tv.

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 fibre. You can try comparison websites if you want to shop around for the best deal.

Do I need a phone to order fibre broadband?

Currently 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.

What will happen when I order?

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.

What to do if your order goes wrong?

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't 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 hidigital@hient.co.uk 

We’d like to know where there are technical difficulties which stop customers ordering from cabinets/connection points 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.

I have 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.

I'm building or I'm in a new build house. Can I get fibre?

There is a process in place for developers of all sizes to discuss connectivity with Openreach. Find out more here.


The checker says I'm too far and might not get a benefit. What does that mean?

This generally means you are a distance away from the cabinet you are connected to.

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.

All customers who can’t get superfast speeds will be part of the future project which aims to deliver superfast to all.

I can't get fibre what can I do?

There are some people who can't order fibre broadband yet. 

The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband roll-out reached as many people as it could with the budget and technology available. There are plans to reach further - see the information below on the Reaching 100% project.

In the meantime, there are some things you can check -

- can you get 4G? Mobile operators are offering increasingly competitive wireless services for the home

- some areas have commercial or community led wireless and whitespace services

- satellite broadband may be available to you 

The Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme (SBVS) is available to those who can't access superfast services. Funding of between £400 and £5,000 is available. Find out more here.

In some cases, rural addresses may be eligible to combine Scottish Government funding with the UK Government’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS) which provides £1,500 for rural homes and £3,500 for rural businesses. If this is the case, chosen suppliers take this into account automatically and manage this on your behalf.

On 20 March 2020 Ofcom launched the broadband Universal Service Obligation to be delivered by BT and KCOM. Further details are available here.


Who funded the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project

The project in the Highlands and Islands was funded by a partnership of the Scottish Government, HIE, Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and BT. It was delivered on the ground by Openreach, and ran until the end of 2020.

What is 'Reaching 100% (R100)'

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.

This project is known as Reaching 100% (R100). A £600m procurement for R100 was split across three regions north, central and south.

BT has been awarded three contracts for the central, south and north regions. The north contract which covers our region is worth £384m.

Find out more here>>

The Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme (SBVS) and Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme is available to those who can't access superfast services. Find out more here.

Find out more about the Scottish Government and Digital

FTTP Dochfour

Fibre to the Premises (FTTP)

The availability of Fibre to the Premises is growing in the Highlands and Islands. It brings fibre all the way to the customer's door and is capable of very fast speeds - up to 1Gbps download, with capacity to go even faster in future.

It's transforming access to high speed broadband, and not just to homes and businesses in big towns. It's available through the Digital Scotland project to around 3,500 of our premises, including reaching some scattered, rural homes which until recently struggled to get useable broadband.

Find out more


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