Bold plans to boost digital connectivity across the country, from Wi-Fi in lamp posts and satellites in most rural parts of Scotland

Papa Stour

THE 10th London Tech Week has begun with a suite of bold initiatives in a bid to cement the UK as an international leader in telecoms. 

From today, residents in Papa Stour, one of the UK’s most remote and inaccessible communities will be connected to high-speed broadband, enabling residents to stay connected wherever they are. The project was announced by the Minister at a speech at London Tech Week, as part of a package of initiatives which also include support for local authorities to procure and test ‘smart lampposts’, boosting connectivity within local communities.

Future telecoms is one the UK government’s 5 key technologies of tomorrow and the initiative will ensure the UK is a continued global leader in the telecoms sector and to improve connectivity for people and businesses across the country.

Making the announcements in a speech at London Tech Week, UK Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Sir John Whittingdale, said:

“Our announcements today will help ensure that everyone, no matter where they live, has access to high-speed broadband and other digital services that they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Improving Papa Stour’s connectivity is a major milestone in our efforts to close the digital divide as it transforms the lives of the island’s residents and visitors.

The Smart Infrastructure Pilots Programme shows how we can use technology to make our communities a better place to live and work and the MoU we have signed with Australia is a significant step in our efforts to work with international partners to build a more secure and resilient telecoms network.

Improving digital connectivity is a top priority for the government. Our mission is to deliver fast, reliable connectivity for everyone in the UK and to continue to be a global leader in telecoms, and today’s package shows exactly that.”

The island of Papa Stour in the Shetland Islands, one of the most remote communities anywhere in the UK, will see its digital infrastructure transformed in a matter of days as part of government plans to ensure universal access to fast, reliable broadband coverage.

Clarus Networks Group starts work on installing a specialist Kymeta flat panel today which, when finished later this week, will link to OneWeb’s constellation of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites to beam high-speed, reliable broadband connections to the island from space.

The panel’s installation marks its first commercial roll-out in Europe and forms part of the government’s Alpha Trial programme launched in December to test the capability and viability of low orbit satellites to deliver high-speed connectivity to communities in very hard to reach areas.

Broadband connectivity will be beamed down to the Scottish island’s rugged coastline via OneWeb’s satellite network, delivering life-changing digital accessibility, made possible by British-born science and technology innovation, and effective collaboration between central and local government.

Paul Coffey, CTO, The Clarus Networks Group, said:

“At Clarus we harness the power of satellite connectivity, combined with state-of-the-art wireless technologies, to solve connection challenges. Until now, Papa Stour residents have been constrained due to unreliable and slow internet connectivity. We are excited to partner to bring lightning fast and reliable internet to the island for the first time. This installation is a landmark step in connecting remote communities, offering new possibilities for UK business and tourism.”

Neil Masterson, CEO OneWeb, said:

“OneWeb has always sought to use satellite connectivity to bridge the digital divide for communities and business around the world. Connectivity is vital for all but especially so for the most remote communities, and we are delighted to be working with the government and our partners on this trial to bring high-speed, low latency connectivity to those living and working on the island.”

The Minister also announced the launch of the Smart Infrastructure Pilots Programme (SIPP). Helping local authorities to deploy advanced digital infrastructure such as smart lampposts, SIPP will support the ambition set out in the government’s recently published Wireless Infrastructure Strategy for people, business and public services across the UK to realise the full benefits of 5G and other advanced wireless connectivity – from economic to environmental growth.

The initiative, a joint programme between DSIT and the Department for Transport (DfT), will provide up to £1.5 million in funding for 6 local authority-led pilots, which will be matched by smart service providers working with the participating local authorities, to procure and test innovative smart multi-purpose columns or lampposts.

Smart multi-purpose columns or lamp posts are street furniture that have the capacity to deliver a range of smart services, including improved mobile network connectivity, public Wi-Fi, electric vehicle charging, public safety and environmental monitoring. Investing in this technology can help bring cost savings to a local authority and increase connectivity for local communities.

The announcement is also a significant step towards achieving the government’s levelling up priorities and fostering widespread access to the benefits of good connectivity in communities across the UK.

Technology and Decarbonisation Minister Jesse Norman said:

“By turning lamp posts and other road infrastructure into smart devices such as public WiFi points, the government are investing in the ways everyday transport infrastructure can be transformed for a greener, cleaner future.

This programme will boost connectivity across the country and increase electric vehicle charging access, helping us to reach our Net Zero goals.”

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