Connecting Scotland’s remote Islands: Papa Stour in Shetland switches on high speed satellite internet for the first time

One of the most remote communities anywhere in the UK, the island of Papa Stour, located off the west coast of Shetland and home to only seven permanent residents, switched on high internet for the first time.  This landmark milestone is part of the UK Government’s ‘Very Hard to Reach Premises’ programme, which aims to connect the UK’s most remote homes and businesses. 

The switch-on by Clarus Networks Group uses OneWeb’s low earth orbit (LEO) satellites to deliver a high-speed, low latency internet connection. Residents can now connect to a broadband network at the island’s primary school building and use high speed WiFi on the island for the first time. Previously, many residents have limited cellular data and only dial-up speed internet in their homes, whereas the new satellite broadband achieves lightning-fast speeds, and is capable of supporting multiple video calls, streaming in HD and other high capacity uses. 

The switch-on also marks Europe’s first commercial deployment of a new satellite comms panel, the Kymeta Hawk u8 terminal, which is flat and compact compared to previous domed antennas. This state-of-the-art panel provides the connection between earth and the satellites.

At its peak in the 19th century, Papa Stour’s population was around 380 people, supported by a strong fishing sector. However, the population has dwindled since and the island is now a permanent home to seven people. Presently, there are no children living on the island, but it is hoped the fast connection will allow the school building to act as a connection hub for the islanders.  

Spearheading this trial is Edinburgh-based Clarus Networks Group, a connectivity and network specialist, experienced with using satellite and 5G technology to bring internet connection to remote regions. Clarus is working with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) on the Papa Stour trial, using OneWeb’s network to deliver high speed connection via a constellation of hundreds of LEO satellites. 

Liz Peterson, Councillor for Shetland West said:  

“We welcome this investment in a satellite broadband trial for Papa Stour, where residents have been disadvantaged for many years due to the lack of a broadband network on the island. This hopefully paves the way for further investment in better broadband services for other rural parts of Shetland. We want our smaller communities to thrive and good broadband is a part of modern life to help maintain populations and to attract more people to live, work and invest in Shetland.”

Speaking about the connection, Papa Stour resident Andy Holt said:

“In our connected age it’s gratifying to feel we are not forgotten. This will be of benefit for both residents and tourists in the years to come.”

Last year, Shetland residents lost all telephone and internet services for a period of time when subsea cables were damaged. The Alpha Trials aim to show how low orbit satellites could be a solution when island locations and rugged scenery make cable installation and maintenance challenging. The Government recently announced a £7 million fund to test new ways to bring together satellite, wireless and fixed line internet connectivity, helping to support remote businesses.

Paul Coffey, Chief Technology Officer at The Clarus Networks Group, said: 

“Clarus has a proven track record of delivering connectivity to remote areas, and the network switch on at Papa Stour is a key milestone. Working with the Government and Shetland Islands Council, this trial shows how satellite technology can be transformational, connecting families and businesses to new opportunities. We hope to work with the local council and Government to use satellite technology to connect even more rural areas and find ways to bring fast connection into all island homes.”

The trial is part of the UK Government’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, aiming to build a better, more secure, more prosperous future. The Clarus Networks Group, alongside BT, OneWeb, and Starlink, is currently supporting this strategy with low earth orbit (LEO) satellite broadband trials in the most remote parts of the UK. In addition to Papa Stour, there are seven sites which use a mixture of both OneWeb and Starlink equipment to connect, including Snowdonia National Park, North York Moors and Lundy Island.

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