In the Middle of June, spectators gathered to watch a white French ship, Rene Descartes, sail on the waters between Largs and Cumbrae to instal millions of pounds of new cable to enhance the west coast’s broadband capacity.

BT has awarded three firms a £26.9 million contract for the ambitious subsea cabling project which will help deliver fast, fibre broadband to more parts of Scotland. Specialist vessels will lay 20 fibre optic submarine cables in a precise operation providing a fibre broadband backbone which will eventually link communities from Kintyre to Orkney. The massive engineering effort is part of the £146 million investment project launched with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to bring high-speed fibre broadband to communities across the west and north of Scotland.

Chelmsford-based Global Marine Systems conduct marine route surveys and supply the cables; Orange Marine, which is based in France but works globally, has been contracted to lay around 400 kilometres of subsea cables, while Hampshire-based A-2-Sea Solutions has been chosen to work onshore connecting the cables to BT’s terrestrial network.

Brendan Dick, director, BT Scotland, said: “Quite simply, it’s the biggest subsea engineering project BT has undertaken in UK territorial waters and is the first ever with so many seabed crossings. “The size of the task presents a massive challenge, not only because of the number of cables involved but also the fact that the work has to be completed within a single, six-month weather window.”

The project is by far the most ambitious and challenging rural broadband roll-out BT has undertaken anywhere in the UK. Along with the subsea cables, the company will build more than 800km of new land fibre backbone to complement its existing fibre network, and install hundreds more kilometres of fibre access cable to hundreds of new street cabinets.