National award for Digital Highlands and Islands consultancy firm

A team from Atkins will this evening pick up this year’s Royal Academy of Engineering Major Project Award, given in recognition of a major engineering project with a substantial impact on society.

A team from Atkins will this evening pick up this year’s Royal Academy of Engineering Major Project Award, given in recognition of a major engineering project with a substantial impact on society.

Atkins has received the award for its part in the delivery of high speed broadband internet infrastructure to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, providing fast internet access to thousands of households and isolated communities.

The project leader, Neil Watt, and team members John Jennow, JD Olliero, and Chris Bond, will receive their award at the Academy’s Annual Awards ceremony tonight at the Landmark Hotel, London.

Increased connectivity and faster broadband are essential for personal communications, the business community, remote delivery of public services and to enable new forms of remote working, education and healthcare. Until very recently, many communities in the Highlands and Islands were not served by superfast fibre based broadband services, with some of the most remote not having access to an internet connection at all.

In 2011, Highlands and Islands Enterprise set the engineering challenge of enabling the delivery of next generation broadband to the majority of premises across this remote region of Scotland by 2016. However, the dramatic geography and dispersed population of the region presented significant technical and cost challenges.

Design, engineering and project management consultancy Atkins responded by developing the business case and procurement strategy and by setting and evaluating the technical specification for the supply of superfast broadband to the region. Their work also included the technical modelling, mapping and cost analysis of the infrastructure required.

Atkins ensured that the project specification included the provision of 400km of new subsea fibre optic cables linking the Inner/Outer Hebrides and Orkney Islands, and over 800km of new fibre optic cable. In 2013, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, in conjunction with Atkins, identified BT as the delivery partner; BT began laying the cables in early 2014.

In the first year of the Highlands and Islands project, hundreds of kilometres of fibre have been laid to create a core network, including 20 subsea routes, representing the biggest ever telecoms subsea cable laying undertaken in the UK.

By the end of June 2015, around 80,000 premises could access services through the project. This includes more than 23,000 in Moray, 41,000 in Highland, 3,000 in each of Orkney and the Western Isles, around 4,000 for Shetland and Argyll and Bute.

Neil Watt, project director within Atkins’ Civil Government and Infrastructure business, said: “We are very proud of the recognition we have received for this project through this prestigious award. This award is equally for Highlands and Islands Enterprise whose team have provided the vision and drive and for BT who are delivering what has become the most challenging telecommunication engineering project ever undertaken in the UK.

“When it is completed, this highly complex project will enable a world-class, future-proofed infrastructure that will deliver superfast broadband to one of Europe’s most remote areas, helping to improve both the economy and quality of life for the remote communities of the Highlands and Islands.”

Dame Ann Dowling DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering said: “Thanks to their systems approach to the venture, Atkins’ engineers ensured the successful roll-out of superfast broadband to the Highlands and Islands region even before a single metre of cable was laid.

“The team was meticulous in their planning of this project, delivering what is possibly one of the largest and most ambitious telecommunications programmes that Europe has seen in recent years. Thanks to Atkins’ work, tens of thousands of people can take advantage of the latest and fastest internet connectivity.”

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