We’re Shefa – and we’re using a subsea cable to bring 5G connectivity to Orkney

Building 5G connectivity in rural locations is no small feat.

This blog is coauthored by Brian Rosendahl, Project Manager and Páll H. Vesturbú, Managing Director at Shefa/Faroese Telecom.

It takes a big team to make it possible. That’s why the 5G RuralFirst consortium is made up of 29 different partners, each with unique skills.

At Shefa, we’re lucky enough to be one of them. Our role in the project revolves around the SHEFA-2 network, which we’re using to bring connectivity to the Faroe Islands, the Shetland Islands – and now the Orkney Islands.

In this blog post, I’d like to introduce ourselves, and explain why we’re so excited to be part of the project.

A bit about us

Shefa is a subsidiary of Faroese Telecom, the leading provider of telecommunications on the Faroe Islands. We have more than 100 years’ experience building connectivity in remote environments – so 5G RuralFirst is right up our street.

The name ‘Shefa’ comes from the subsea cable that runs from the Faroe then Shetland Island, on to the Orkney Islands and the north of Scotland.

Originally, the Shefa cable was set up to deliver international connection to the Faroe Islands. As an added bonus, it can also provide capacity to Shetland and the Orkney Islands, and the oil and gas terminals that operate in the North Sea.

As part of our role in the 5G RuralFirst project, we will be using the Shefa cable to run connectivity from Datavita, Glasgow, where the Cisco 5G core is located, to our PoP (point of presence) in the Orkney Islands. We’ll also be offering co-location and mast space services using our landing station facilities at the Ayre of Cara.

This will enable our project partners – and the local people of Orkney themselves – to access the 5G network directly, without having to leave the islands.

Using our experience to get Orkney connected

We’re hugely excited to be involved in a project that is bringing 5G connectivity to remote locations. As an organisation headquartered in the Faroe Islands – which some people might describe as the middle of nowhere – we understand how important connectivity can be when it comes to preventing isolation.

Orkney is an archipelago made up of 70 islands, not all of which are inhabited. For 5G RuralFirst, we are looking to provide high speed connectivity to four distinct locations: Sanday, North Ronaldsay, St Margaret’s Hope, and the Ayre of Cara.

In doing so, we’ll be bringing connectivity to places where there is currently little to no coverage. This promises to have a hugely positive impact on the communities who live and work on these Orkney Islands.

These are the people who matter the most –  so, we’ll be looking to include them in our trial. We will be distributing 30 mobile handsets to local Orcadians who will be testing out the network coverage, and seeing if it really works for them.

Connectivity with Force 8 wind-speeds

It was natural for us to participate in this project, since we’ve long been interested in the potential of 5G.

Faroese Telecom is the leading provider of 3G, 4G and 4.5G. But the fifth generation network is something that we need to explore further, as we prepare to roll it out ourselves on the Faroe Islands.

And then, of course, this project seemed a perfect fit for our skill set. When it comes to facing the challenge of networking in a difficult environment, our expertise is unrivalled.

In fact, conditions on the Orkney Islands are not so different from what we face in the Faroe Islands – although they may be slightly worse.

The thing about the Orkney Islands is the unrelenting wind. The islands experience an average of 52 hours of wind each year, and the most extreme gales, where the wind speeds are over 90 mph, occur relatively frequently, although usually only in short bursts.

This is something that you always need to take into consideration when constructing infrastructure for connectivity.  Obviously, when the weather is bad, you can’t work on a subterranean cable with Force 8 winds – and this can limit how quickly you can work on these kinds of projects.

Learning from the 5G RuralFirst consortium

We’ve learned a huge amount from working with the consortium on the project so far.

Firstly, it’s been fantastic to have some technical support for the mobile infrastructure and the spectrum sharing. The spectrum in particular has been a big impediment to some of our work in the past – so it’s good to see it coming together perfectly for 5G RuralFirst.

Being involved in this project is a real privilege, since we learn so much from the other partners all around us. There’s such a breadth of expertise across many different areas — from broadcasting to academia to agriculture to technology – it makes collaboration a really rich and rewarding experience.

It’s been especially useful hearing different perspectives on the topic of business models. This is a new challenge for us, so it’s great to be in a position to gain insight from the wider consortium to help us deal with it.

Ultimately, we love the fact that the 5G RuralFirst consortium has given us a new network of people to connect with – as an organisation in the telecoms industry, connection is something we are passionate about!

Ready to put rural first

We’re incredibly excited to be able to use the SHEFA-2 cable to deliver 5G connectivity to the Orkney Islands.

A successful deployment will make a huge difference to Orcadian businesses and communities. We should know – we are a business based in a similarly remote location.

As such, we understand the value that comes from putting rural areas first. With this project, we can’t wait to help make it happen – for the duration of the project, and hopefully beyond.

February 07, 2019 in 5G Access Technology, 5G Cloud Core Network