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An ambitious subsea broadband project is to get underway in the new year, after BT awarded three companies a £26.9 million contract.

Global Marine Systems, Orange Marine and A-2-Sea Solutions will lay 20 fibre optic submarine cables off the coast of Scotland between May and October 2014.

This will provide the Highlands & Islands with a fibre broadband backbone which will eventually link communities from Kintyre to Orkney.

The work is being undertaken as part of the £146 million investment network upgrade project being undertaken by BT and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

They have selected Chelmsford-based Global Marine Systems to conduct detailed marine route surveys and supply the cables.

Orange Marine, which is headquartered in France, is to lay around 400km of subsea cables, while Hampshire-based A-2-Sea Solutions will work onshore connecting the cables to BT's terrestrial network.

The three companies were chosen for the project following a competitive tendering process which featured several rival bids.

Brendan Dick, Director of BT Scotland, said: "Quite simply, it is the biggest subsea engineering project BT has undertaken in UK territorial waters and is the first ever with so many seabed crossings.

"The size of the task presents a massive challenge, not only because of the number of cables involved but also the fact the work has to be completed within a single, six-month weather window."

He said "the pressure is on", but BT is confident that in around a year's time, the Highlands & Islands will have its own super-fast fibre broadband network.

HIE’s Stuart Robertson, Director of Digital Highlands and Islands, commented that the subsea cables are "an essential part" of the plan to bring high-speed broadband to communities on the west coast.

"Their installation is essential in order to reach the 84 per cent coverage target for the region," he stated.

"The fibre network will bring services closer to everyone and will make it easier to provide better broadband to even our hardest to reach areas."

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