TWO remote communities now have among the fastest broadband speeds in Scotland through a unique partnership with digital network business Openreach.

Full-fibre cables are live in Altnaharra, Sutherland, where around 60 households and businesses can now order broadband services with speeds of up to 330Mbps.

The first ultrafast fibre services have also gone live in Skerray, Sutherland, and engineers from Openreach will continue work over the next few weeks to reach more Skerray households and outlying Altnaharra properties.

Openreach has funded the two pilot fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) projects, building fibre from new nodes off main fibre spines direct to local properties, with both communities helping with digging.

As part of the pilot schemes, local people and workers from the Altnaharra Estate helped to dig in around 4800 metres of cable.

Until now, due to the high costs of bringing faster broadband to small communities in remote areas, many of the villagers have been making do with some of Scotland’s slowest connections of around 0.5Mbps.

Local residents said the new ultrafast service has already brought huge benefits.

Becy Robertson, manager of Altnaharra Hotel, said: “Our original broadband was truly snail pace at around 0.53Mbps – we had a hub in the office and guests would sit in the library beside us trying to get connected. We’d have a group of cyclists all trying to update their online blogs, while office staff could not even print a menu.

“So when we had the big surprise that we were going to be getting ultrafast, it was Christmas all over. We now have fibre in the office with a download speed of 80Mbps and upload of 20Mbps and it makes a big, big difference.

“We do all our banking online, and can now do this whenever we like rather than waiting for a quiet time of day when bandwidth is available. Our booking process has improved dramatically, as we can now update online availability in real time when we take reservations over the phone.”

Pieter Bakker is estate manager of the 36,600-acre Altnaharra Estate which has a wide range of interests from environmental land management, renewables and holiday home rentals to forestry, farming, deer stalking and fishing.

He said: “The difference the fast connection has made is massive. For the first time, I can download and upload documents and forms from work-essential websites like the Scottish Government’s Rural Payments and Inspections Division and Scottish Natural Heritage, and send emails in seconds.

“The arrival of high-speed broadband has truly changed our future in Altnaharra – and will assist in moving our business and the community into the 21st century.”

Openreach chief executive Clive Selley said: “We promised the people of Altnaharra and Skerray their new ultrafast services by this autumn, and we’ve delivered to the majority in Altnaharra ahead of schedule and are on track in Skerray.

“We’re 100 per cent committed to using our digital expertise and innovation to bring high-speed services to as many remote communities as possible, including supporting the Scottish Government in their ambition to reach every premises in Scotland.”

Techniques piloted by Openreach for the project are now being used across the UK.