North Ronaldsay is the northernmost island of the Orkney Islands. At its nearest point, the Island is 53.71 miles from the Scottish Mainland and 2.5 miles from its nearest neighbor. In 2016 I undertook some research into the Internet on North Ronaldsay. I have shared some of the communications infrastructures that I identified below.
Currently (2016) the communication technology in place is limited and outdated. There is a BT Exchange currently on the island which connects to the individual residential properties via underground copper cabling. The exchange itself has no fixed cabling back to the mainland but uses a series of microwave satellites. Below is a picture of the BT Exchange on North Ronaldsay. At the back of the building, you can see the Microwave Satellite being used to send the communications back to the mainland.
Microwave technology is used to transmit analog and digital signals back to the mainland via a series of relays. Microwaves are transmitted via a direct line of sight radio path. The bonus to microwave relays using a direct line of sight radio paths meaning they do not interfere with other microwave links nearby, even when using the same frequencies.
The microwaves are sent directly from one satellite to another until it reaches the mainland where the microwave signal is converted back in its original analogue or digital form. This is the same in reverse, microwaves received on the island are converted back to analogue/digital and onto their final destination on the island via the exchange.
As a direct line of sight is required, microwave satellites are often high up on masts. As North Ronaldsay is low lying, a mast can be attached to the exchange itself. However, on the island, there is also a Communications Mast on the North of the Island. This isn’t used for the BT Connection on the island but used to relay other communications and also hosts a mobile cell for the O2 Network.
The Microwave relay via the BT Exchange and copper cabling to the island’s premises does provide a phone line for both calls and internet. However, due to the current technologies being used the ADSL connection offers limited bandwidth and speed. uSwitch, 2016 states that the estimated broadband speed to be expected via the current infrastructure of 1.02mb. That is also based on a clear connection. One of the drawbacks to microwave relay communication is that they can be interrupted by the weather, especially rain. Being in such a remote location makes North Ronaldsay network particularly vulnerable.
This is currently the primary internet source for residents to be able to utilize, however, there are also a couple of alternatives. There are two mobile networks that have mobile cells of the island, Vodafone and O2.
Please note, this was originally researched in 2016 and may have changed.
Find out more about North Ronaldsay.
Read more blog posts.