The science fiction reality
Internet network boost for islands
A wireless relay network offers fast broadband connections to the small isles of Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna in the north-west Highlands
An internet network which offers remote communities a faster broadband connection than in most cities has been developed.
By using the internet at the Gaelic College (Sabhal Mor Ostaig) on Skye as an original source, a wireless relay network has been created to serve the Small Isles (Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna) plus other remote parts of the mainland.
The connection from the system is said to be faster than in most cities, reaching speeds of up to 20 megabits per second (Mbps). Homes and businesses on the Small Isles and in the Highlands are said to be benefiting from superfast broadband provided through the project.
The technology was developed by communities with help from experts at the University of the Highlands and Islands and the University of Edinburgh through a collaborative research project called Tegola. Local company HebNet has also helped extend the provision to other communities in the north-west Highlands.
Many rural communities are too far from a telephone exchange for high-speed broadband to work and satellite broadband has been shown to be slow and expensive, researchers said. However, they believe their method could provide a solution for these places and it is hoped the scheme will be rolled out across several other communities which are said to be showing interest.
Professor Peter Buneman, from the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics, initiated the project. He said: "I am delighted to see our scheme bringing the benefits of the web to these remote communities and hope that, with further support, our system can be implemented in more places like these."
The scheme is backed by the Scottish Government's Community Broadband Scotland initiative.
Nicola Sturgeon, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, said: "Broadband should not be considered a luxury in places like the Highlands and Islands. It is essential to enhance the quality of life of communities and to stimulate the growth of the local economy. Increasing access to broadband is a key priority area for the Scottish Government and we are currently progressing plans to develop a world-class digital infrastructure by 2020."
Jem Taylor, head of strategy and development for the University of the Highlands and Islands' IT team, said: "Commercial internet providers have so far failed to find an economical way to reach these remote, sparsely populated and often mountainous regions, meaning many are being left behind in the digital revolution. Now we've established the model works, it has the potential to be used in other rural communities."
Professor Boyd Robertson, principal of Sabhal Mor Ostaig, said: "We are pleased to host this project which makes high-speed broadband available to communities in sparsely-populated areas and contributes to their economic viability and social vitality."