New fibre-based broadband services are now available to around a further 170 homes and businesses in Orkney thanks to a UK first.

Unused payphones have been replaced with a superfast fibre broadband cabinet in Kirkwall, upgrading speeds of up to 80Mbps.

Engineering requirements for the new technology meant that the only suitable location for the new fibre cabinet was where two red payphone kiosks were situated, next to The Strynd in the town centre.

The growth of mobile phones has meant that usage of payphones has declined by 90% in the past decade and, with the agreement of Orkney Islands Council, the payphones were removed by BT and the kiosks adopted by the council.

The local authority now plans to site the iconic boxes elsewhere in the town, using them as part of heritage improvements. Several other BT Payphones in the town centre are continuing to operate.

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The latest 170 new premises are among 4,600 households and businesses in Kirkwall – and more than 8,000 across Orkney – now able to upgrade to speeds of up to 80Mbps thanks to the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project.

Engineers from Openreach, BT’s local network business, expect to bring additional coverage to Kirkwall later this year as well as reaching places such as Birsay, Finstown, Harray, Sandwick, Tankerness and Westray.

Robert Thorburn, fibre broadband director for BT Scotland, said: “We’re already using complex and innovative engineering solutions to reach the smallest, most remote communities, which are already benefiting from the rollout.

“However, this is the first time we’ve been able to replace old phone boxes, which were no longer needed, with a brand new fibre cabinet, and we’re really grateful to Orkney Islands Council for working with us to make it happen.

“The iconic red payphone kiosks, first introduced more than 80 years ago, still sit in the hearts and minds of Scots and I’m eager to hear to hear how Orcadians will make use of the adopted kiosks in the future.

“More than 85% of Scottish homes and businesses can already benefit from speeds greater than 30Mbps from the Openreach network, and we’ll continue to work with our partners to bring faster broadband to as many people as possible, as quickly as we can.”

The faster speeds will be welcomed by local households who want to connect a variety of devices to the internet at the same time for entertainment, research and education, and businesses which can use the high-speed technology to find new customers and boost competitiveness.

Fibre broadband also offers quicker downloading of the latest box sets and smoother video calls with friends or family and getting access to essential online services.

The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project, led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) in the area, is bringing faster broadband to thousands of homes and businesses that were not included in the private sector’s commercial plans.

The coverage forms part of a three-year £146m investment, funded by the Scottish Government, the UK Government, HIE and private sector partner BT, with engineers from Openreach delivering the project on the ground.

Stuart Robertson, HIE’s director of digital, said: “The project has brought access to superfast broadband to many areas of Orkney for the first time. While this roll-out can't reach everyone, coverage is close to three quarters of the islands’ homes and businesses. There’s a bit more coming in the Orphir, Holm, Kirkwall and Stromness areas. Parts of the Birsay and Sandwick areas will see some coverage this year too.”

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