BT is laying a new fibre optic submarine cable between Orkney and the Scottish mainland to help bring its 21st Century Network to the Northern Isles. The 70 km cable will run from Skaill Bay in Orkney under the Pentland Firth to Dunnet Bay, around five miles east of Thurso.
BT has awarded the contract to independent marine engineering company Global Marine Systems Ltd. (Global Marine), who began installing the cable on Wednesday. Weather permitting, the work should be completed in around three weeks.
Global Marine's cableship CS Sovereign is using its submersible plough and remotely operated vehicle systems to install the cable up to one metre below the seabed.
The new cable is the latest step towards bringing BT's 21 Century Network - the world's most radical next generation communications transformation programme - to the islands.
BT has already reached agreement with Faroese Telecom to share part of a new fibre optic submarine cable which has been laid between the Faroe Islands, Orkney and Shetland and the Scottish mainland.
The cable, which comes ashore at Banff, will provide connectivity to the Northern Isles alongside existing microwave radio links.
BT is making a significant investment in the new network in Scotland and will be replacing equipment in more than 1000 exchanges across the nation.
BT's 21CN programme is designed to remove duplication across the existing multiple networks and systems to create a single, converged multi-service internet protocol (IP) based network. It will allow users to customise, personalise and change a growing range of advanced new converged services in real time.
Brendan Dick, director, BT Scotland, said: "This is another major step forward in the massive amount of preparatory work we are progressing so that people living in the Northern Isles can share in the benefits that our next-generation network will bring.
"21CN is for all our customers - whether they're service providers in their own right, part of a large organisation, a smaller business or a consumer with a BT phone. Everyone will enjoy a better overall experience - from ordering a service to paying the bill.
"It's one of the biggest projects BT has ever undertaken and much more work will have to be done before 21CN comes to Orkney and Shetland.
"Nearly 60 exchanges in the islands, from the largest to the smallest, will have existing equipment removed and replaced with 21st Century kit. And it will be well worth the wait, because every exchange, no matter how remote, will have the same capability as a city centre exchange."
Gabriel Ruhan, CEO of Global Marine Systems, Ltd. said: "The new subsea cable, and 21CN in general, will enable BT's customers to meet demand from their customers for new feature-rich multimedia and multi-play services. We are very pleased to be a part of such a significant project and our longstanding relationship and past success with BT will help us as we move forward."
The project follows on from Global Marine's successful installation in May of a new cable system connecting the UK with Guernsey in the Channel Islands.