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Western Isles set to benefit from the most extensive wireless broadband network in the UK

The Herald - 2002-08-19

by Kay Smith

The Western Isles of Scotland are set to benefit from the most extensive wireless broadband network in the UK as the result of a search to find fast and cost effective telecommunication network for the remote and scattered region.

The choice of wireless over satellite or fibre-optic cables will offset limitations to the spread of broadband technology, now mainly delivered through underground fibre optic cabling - a method unsuitable for an area of difficult terrain and seascape.

The project?s backers say wireless networking also goes far beyond the possibilities of individual satellite dish technology.

The network is being paid for with 1.5m of public funds, including 1m from the DTI?s Broadband Britain Fund, as well as contributions from Western Isles Enterprise and local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Wireless equipment will be installed on existing radio and telecommunications masts - from Lewis in the north to Barra in the south-west - which are currently owned by mobile phone firms, the police, air traffic control and other public utility companies.

The extent to which the network can extend to all of the region?s 1200 small to medium-sized businesses may depend, however, on the level of partnership funding or commercial input from the installation company. Seven firms have been invited to tender, with the winner to be announced on September 13. Work is expected to be completed by next March.

Telecommunication consultants Mason are managing the tendering process, Andrew Muir, principal consultant for Mason in Ullapool, said the project was aimed at making the most of existing structures.

Hopes are that the Western Isles project will not only be a test bed for technology in rural areas, but that it will also raise awareness and fuel a demand for broadband.

Donnie Morrison, Regional Broadband?s project manager, stressed that providing sound IT services to teleworkers on the Western Isles was a must.

Morrison also heads up Work Global, a project funded by the EU and local agencies to attract teleworking employment to home-based workers throughout the Western Isles. Found on the website www.work-global.com Work Global is experiencing an unprecedented number of inquiries from people wanting to relocate to the Western Isles.

"The two most common questions we are asked is what is the cost of housing and what is the telecommunications network like." Morrison said.

"We can certainly answer positively on the first count. We want to make sure we can also answer positively on the second count."