BT and OneWeb deliver internet to rock in Bristol Channel – population 28

More puffins than people on Lundy, and no one wants to say how much it cost

BT and satellite operator OneWeb are now providing internet access to the island of Lundy as part of the UK government's program to connect up hard-to-reach areas of the country, but the pair are strangely reluctant to discuss costs.

Westminster announced a trial last year to look into how satellite connectivity might be used to deliver a high-speed internet service to various "hard-to-reach" locations around Britain. These included mountainous areas or small islands, which would be difficult or costly to connect up by cable.

The initial wave of sites was supported by equipment supplied by US-based Starlink, but UK government had said it intended to extend the trials to providers such as OneWeb, especially at "more complex sites."

Now that has come to pass as BT and OneWeb are delivering a satellite service to Lundy as part of the UK government's Alpha Trials program, providing it with reliable connectivity for the first time, says BT.

Lundy is known to tourists visiting the North Devon coast as "that smudge on the horizon," situated about 10 nautical miles (19km) out into the Bristol Channel. It is less than 3 miles (5km) long, only about half a mile (1km) wide, is home to just 28 permanent residents and is a designated Marine Conservation Zone famous for its seabirds such as puffins.

Thanks to the government's Alpha Trials program, it now has a satellite link via an Intellian dual parabolic terminal, connected to an indoor satellite modem. From here, connectivity is distributed locally to support payment systems in the local tavern and shop, for example.

(BT were unable to inform us how this local distribution works, saying only that it uses a "pre-existing system." Perhaps if anyone on Lundy is reading this, they could enlighten us?)

The connection to the internet is via OneWeb's low Earth orbit satellite constellation, which is backhauled across the company's wide area network to one of BT's points of presence (PoP) in London, where it is routed onto the internet or into BT's core network. This sounds like a recipe for delays, but OneWeb insists its service offers high throughput and low latencies to even the most remote locations.

Initially, the satellite link is configured to deliver a 75Mbps downstream service, with plans to upgrade it to 100Mbps. The terminals can apparently support a maximum 195Mbps downlink.

To many Reg readers, 75Mbps shared among an entire community may not sound like a great service, but it may well be a huge improvement on what the islanders had before.

We asked how much this setup cost, but BT declined to answer, and instead referred us to the Department for Science, Innovation & Technology (DSIT), which is overseeing the Alpha Trials program.

We asked DSIT how much it had cost to install the satellite terminal for this project, and if the department was covering the ongoing service costs of the connection. DSIT also declined to answer, telling us only that it will "set out the full costs of the project in due course."

OneWeb did not respond to our queries. The company announced the completion of its constellation of satellites earlier this year, following a launch that delivered the final 36 of its 618 into orbit.

The government announced in April that it had launched an £8 million ($10.2 million) fund to provide capital grants for satellite connectivity to the most remote 35,000 premises in the country and to help ensure that those premises had improved broadband where required. ®

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