Engineers beat challenge of exchange only lines

Engineers have overcome a major technical challenge to make high-speed fibre broadband available to thousands more homes and businesses in the Highlands and Islands.

Engineers have overcome a major technical challenge to make high-speed fibre broadband available to thousands more homes and businesses in the Highlands and Islands.

More than 20,000 premises in dozens of locations are already benefiting from access to the technology through the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband rollout after months of additional planning and engineering work.

The homes and businesses were all served by ‘Exchange Only’ lines which run directly from the exchange to the premises – bypassing the usual road-side cabinets which are integral to the rollout of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) technology.

To overcome the hurdle, engineers from Openreach, BT’s local network business, have rearranged existing network and laid hundreds of metres of new cable to reroute lines through dozens of extra road-side cabinets.

As a result, many local people in places such as Castletown, Kildary, Kinlochleven, Spean Bridge, Alves, Dufftown and Rothiemay are now able to access download speeds of up to 80 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 20 Mbps* through their chosen service providers. A list of locations where Exchange Only lines are now ready for fibre service is below.

They’re among more than 80,000 Highlands and Islands premises now passed by the £410m Digital Scotland rollout.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Bringing high-speed broadband to homes and business premises that were once thought to be out of reach because they’re linked directly to telephone exchanges is another step forward. It’s good to see engineering solutions being put in place to overcome technical challenges and means additional fibre coverage for dozens of communities, with more to follow.

“Every week hundreds more households and businesses nationwide are being given the opportunity to upgrade their broadband to a faster fibre service through the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband rollout.  Residents can visit to check if they can get connected.”

The Digital Scotland rollout is being delivered on the ground by BT, which is investing £126m in the programme in addition to its commercial upgrades. In total, the Digital Scotland deployment now passes around 350,000 Scottish homes and businesses.

Brendan Dick, BT Scotland director, said: “Some areas in Scotland have a higher than average number of lines connected directly to the local exchange. This was often an advantage with first generation broadband over copper wires, but it creates additional challenges when it comes to the rollout of high-speed fibre.

“Our engineers worked out an innovative way forward to give thousands more residents the chance to become part of the fibre broadband revolution. It’s just one of the challenges in this highly complex engineering programme, but the roll-out is progressing well and passing around 5,000 homes a week.”

The roll-out for Highlands and Islands is one of the most challenging broadband engineering projects in the UK.

Stuart Robertson, HIE’s Director of Digital, said: “Around half of our region’s homes and businesses are linked directly to their local exchange so it’s great news that we’ve been among the first places in Scotland to benefit from this latest digital engineering innovation.  We know how important access to high-speed internet technology is in rural areas and many  homes and businesses can be part of the roll-out as a direct result.” 
*These are the top wholesale speeds available from Openreach to all service providers; speeds offered by service providers may vary.

While many premises in enabled areas now have access to fibre broadband, some may not be able to connect due to ongoing rollout, network topography and other technological factors. To be sure that you can get fibre broadband, check with your internet service provider.

The local locations where many people previously served by Exchange Only lines can now get access to fibre broadband via their service providers include:


Alness, Ardersier, Beauly, Castletown, Croy, Dingwall, Dornoch, Drumchardine, Dufftown, Edderton, Evanton, Fort William, Fortrose, Inverness Culloden, Kessock, Kildary, Kiltarlity, Kinlochleven, Muir of Ord, Spean Bridge, Tain, Thurso, Urray


Aberlour, Buckie, Cullen, Dufftown, Elgin, Fochabers, Forres, Hopeman, Lhanbryde, Lossiemouth, Rothiemay



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