At the Strathdearn Estate and Business meeting on 11th August 2015, concern was raised about the poor broadband speed, which is particularly bad up the glen towards Coignafearn.
As a frequent broadband user myself, and with a young family who always seem to want to watch things like Netflix and BBC iPlayer (often at the same time!), I realised that something needs to be done to improve the service not just at the top of the glen but throughout the whole of Strathdearn.
In recent weeks I have spoken to Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and BT; both organisations have been extremely helpful in informing me of the current situation and the potential solutions:
Fibre optic installation
Fibre optic has recently been installed in the Tomatin Exchange, and I also suspect the Moy Exchange, although I would need to verify the latter. At present, BT has no plans to install fibre optic broadband to premises due to the cost constraints. There is also no plan to upgrade the Glenmazeran Exchange and beyond. The service from the exchange cabinet is routed via copper to your home and customers may be able to see speeds of anywhere up to 80mbps dependant on the distance from the cabinet itself. The further the distance, the more the speed will drop off. In order to check what service and speed is potentially available to you at present check out: www.hie.co.uk/whereandwhen
For those considering upgrading their service it is worth checking with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) for further information and pricing.
BT informed me that they are currently investigating ways in which to significantly increase broadband speed over copper lines using a new technology called GFAST. "During the G.FAST trials, downstream speeds of around 800Mbps were achieved over a 19m length of copper, combined with upstream speeds of more than 200Mbps. Impressive speeds of around 700/200Mbps were also achieved over longer lines of 66m" (BT Press release, Google: "GFast").However, whilst this may provide a longer term solution for properties close to the upgraded exchanges, it will not provide a solution for more remote properties within Strathdearn.
Potential solutions for more remote areas
One of the cheaper options for a more dispersed community such as Strathdearn would be to install a wireless transmitter which would provide customers with speeds of around 60mbps according to HIE. In theory, wireless technology should also improve over time, but whether the infrastructure would need to be replaced each time and the cost of doing so is not certain. An option such as this would need to installed in a location/s that is/are accessible for maintenance and the service could potentially be affected by severe weather.
Fibre optic Solution
A fibre optic line either direct to premises or even to a number of new exchanges further out from main exchanges would provide the best speeds. According to BT, fibre cable, which can currently achieve speeds up to 300mbps, will potentially go up 1,000mbps once new technology comes in. This is the most expensive option initially due to the costs involved in installation.
At this stage BT is going to initially look into the cost of installing a fibre optic cable up the glen. If this project is to go ahead it will need to be self-financed by the property owners in the upper glen. I would be most grateful if any owners or residents from the upper glen would contact me if this is something they would be interested in and potentially willing to back?
Obviously, this whole thing depends on the cost of the project and the amount of support we can achieve. The more support this has, the more likely it is that we can make this happen. Therefore at this stage if you have any interest in this, even if you are unable to assist in financially supporting the project I would be grateful if you could let me know. BT has asked me for a map showing properties that are potentially interested.
If the glen upgrade if feasible then we could consider implementing these upgrades throughout the whole of Strathdearn. There are various grants available, but these tend to be for the most cost effective solution rather than the best solution! Until we receive cost estimates it is difficult to say whether any grants will be achievable. This project could also seek backing from Strathdearn Community Developments as it would be enhancing services to the community.
As technology continues to improve we do not want our community to be left behind. More and more appliances rely on fast broadband, whether it is HD television, Ultra HD, media downloads, conference calling, large email attachments, home appliances, gaming, or music etc. All these uses continue to demand more and more from our broadband speed.
At this very early stage I would also be interested to hear any interest/comments from any residents of Strathdearn who are also keen to see an improvement in broadband speeds.
You can either call: 07527 883 606