back to article Reg hack battles Margaret Thatcher's ghost to bring broadband to the Highlands

Scottish broadband remains an elusive dream for many, despite the money being poured into BT's coffers, but pigeonhole a Reg reporter and you might just get lucky. That's what Ronny did. He grabbed your correspondent at a ward meeting where reps from Community Broadband Scotland were polling householders for their opinions – …


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  1. Kevin Johnston


    Now here's a thought. I don't remember everything from your trials and tribulations on the initial build but I am sure that a tower was considered and rejected for various reasons but this latest article makes me wonder. Has anyone considered approaching Glenmorangie to see if they would act as a hub or at least a host for aerials? I'm no expert but I suspect there is a better than fair chance they would look at this from the community aspect as it never hurts to be known for leaning towards altruism.

    1. Rampant Spaniel

      Re: No....

      We could just do a Ranolph on the warehouse, after emptying it of course.

      Great article, nice to see some ingenuity, not to mention helping each other.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: No....

        I would certainly be willing to help in this community effort. If there's a ton of Glenmorangie in the way, blocking righteous radio signals, then it must be dealt with at once! As an Englishman with perfect broadband, I see it as my civic duty to give something back for those less fortunate than myself*. Therefore I am willing to drink as much of the offending liquid as is necessary to enable radio signals to pass freely, as nature intended.

        *I leave it as an exercise for you, dear reader, to decide which is a worse disadvantage. Having no broadband, or being Scottish...

        Congratulations are in order to our heroic correspondent for his efforts in spreading the light of civilisation - or at least cat videos. I guess, particularly after that last comment, I'd best get my coat.

        1. Heathroi

          Re: No....

          *I leave it as an exercise for you, dear reader, to decide which is a worse disadvantage. Having no broadband, or being Scottish...

          or both.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Take care

    Some local gov Jobsworth might just decide that your antennae require Planning Permission (or worse).

    1. hplasm

      Re: Take care

      That's what the Unregulated Hi-power mode is for.

      Crank it up. point and *click*


      /BOFH Mode

    2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: Take care

      Nah, something like that would come under building regs at most. You can apply retroactively without penalty.

  3. Craigie

    Rural Broadband Network

    You might be interested to to read about a project a friend of mine set up. She found funding from the Rural Broadband Network and set up her own not-for-profit to get decent internet by microwave to homes and businesses in Kinlocheil. -

  4. Dr U Mour

    Fig leaves blowing in the wind

    Poor and expensive patching of a broke system, however well meaning and rigorously applied keep the broken system going. Internet access should be subject to Universal Service Provision and the industry should be obliged to provide a similar basic access for all before concentrating on the best possible service for a few.

    1. Chris Miller

      Re: Fig leaves blowing in the wind

      Exactly, just because I choose to live on a previously uninhabited island should in no way preclude me from receiving the same Internet access at the same price as some English bastard living in a tower block in the City of London. It's my human right, innit?

      1. Dr U Mour
        Thumb Down

        Re: Fig leaves blowing in the wind

        Appreciate your point, however story does not refer to remote uninhabited island but an established mainland UK community.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Fig leaves blowing in the wind

      the industry should be obliged to provide a similar basic access for all"

      ...and by the time it's all been talked about, discussed with "stakeholders" and generally fucked about by Govt. jobsworths, that "basic" level will be "up to" 56Kb/s, also known as dial-up.

  5. Buzzword


    If it's just for checking his emails, isn't dial-up a suitable option?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Dial-up?

      What is this ancient thing you are talking about?

      didn't this go the way of the dodo many eons ago

      1. Natalie Gritpants

        Re: Dial-up?

        It's still alive and kicking although with AJAX and advertising goodness it's very slow. Last week I attempted to upgrade a Windows XP machine to service pack3 only to find that the download would take 27 hours. Needless to say the box went in the back of my car back to civilization.

    2. M Gale

      Re: Dial-up?

      I still remember, only a couple of years ago, when the SurfUnlimited dialup connection, there since Blue Yonder first launched the thing, stopped working. Handshake okay, but no connect. I won't bother explaining why I was still on dialup. I'll just say I wasn't the one paying the bill, so wasn't one to argue.

      So I ring what is now Virgin Media up to ask them to fix the problem. Their response is "we don't do an unlimited dialup package!" My response, "Er, yes you do. Look at the bill."

      The first line tech takes a look, goes "oh", and I get immediately bumped up to what the last-line tech guy affectionately referred to as "the old fogies department". Apparently, I'd been completely forgotten about somehow, and the ghost account stayed active, being charged every month, and continuing to allow access to their dial-up POPs right up until, I presume, something went pop. Apparently up until that point, I was the only person in the entire company left on that package.

      At a month to download a DVD image, compared with the actually-unlimited mobile connection I'm on now, I have to say I don't regret the switch, even if I'm paying for it now. It would be nice to have a real IP address though.

  6. Fat Freddie's Cat

    +1 for Ubiquiti products

    My office has line of sight to home but no wired phone (in fact total wiring to the office is one 13 amp circuit). The office phone has long been a VOIP affair so all the office really needs is decent internet access. One Ubiquiti UniFi AP-Outdoor unit high on the back of the house and another on a mast on the office roof and we're in business. Wired access for the phone and Sonos box with wireless repeater for the laptop. Easy to set up and invisible in use.

    For outdoor units, PoE is an eye opener – it makes life much easier.

    Only downside was a dead spot in our basement. To resolve this, I dropped in a standard UniFi AP unit.

    All three UniFi units present themselves as the same wireless network (same network name and password) with the web based admin tool simple to use. I log in occasionally to check the stats. Really these units are designed for large campuses / office buildings but they're not too expensive and replaced a mixed bag of wireless access and powerline kit. Life is much simpler now.

    1. Danny 14

      Re: +1 for Ubiquiti products

      We use unifi stuff too. Foe the price it is excellent, the management software just works and all our APs and building links work fine. Guest portal is great too.

  7. Peter Simpson 1

    I hope

    ...that the long-suffering and generous Claire is receiving something for her trouble. A portion of the contents of the warehouse you mentioned might be appropriate. Claire is the personification of the Good Sport.

    And well done, for finally getting your broadband -- bigger antenna, higher up = Good Thing!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: I hope

      the long-suffering and generous Claire is receiving something for her trouble."

      The author states that The Reg pays for his internet connection and the ADSL connection is at Claires house. I'm guessing Claire has free internet as part of the deal/

  8. Spook


    Assuming the LOS distance is roughly 10km, at ~6GHz you would expect to see about 1dB of loss due to rain fade. Added to that other losses and multipath effects, and your link could go down completely in weather which is probably not untypical where you live.

    1. tony2heads

      Re: Margin

      1dB for rain fade over 10km. Sounds OK outside of the winter period - checkout the nomogram in

      Anyone measured it?

      Consider also that wet snow really kills the signal

      particularly if it is stuck on the antenna!

      - make sure to use vertical polarization

      But the multipath at this low level must be really bad. How would the neighbours feel about you putting up a mast?

    2. AJ MacLeod

      Re: Margin

      You're mistaken about the probability of rain, that's the other side of Scotland - here we usually have some of the lowest rainfall figures in the whole of Britain.

  9. Anonymous Coward


    We're on the opposite coast, where we are so rural we actually go to Tain, the location of this report, for our monthly shop, as it's a metropolis on comparison. I must agree with Dr U Mour's comment, and the ideal is to get BT to get their monopoly into gear and deliver service. Where we are, some of us have a reasonable service, although with no likelihood of better speeds as they become available, while some folk have little or no service at all. I can understand the frustration that leads to the solution in the report, but we're starting to have to deliver a lot of services ourselves (elderly services, local transport, and more to come) while still being expected to pay all the various pipers with their snouts in the trough. £50 for Ofcom's blessing when they should be using their position to get BT to perform?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thank you to all concerned

    But given the requirements described *in this particular case*, a decent short term solution (with fewer challenges) might imo have been taking bookings by phone rather than Internet, and (as already suggested) accessing email by dialup?

    There's no article in that though, and I do enjoy these.

    So, nice article, not quite so sure about the solution, but hopefully it sets a useful example for others.

    1. M Gale

      Re: Thank you to all concerned

      Oh I dunno. £50 a year for 5.5mbits seems pretty good value. Granted it's a lot of faff, but then that's half the fun isn't it?

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Thank you to all concerned

      "taking bookings by phone rather than Internet, and (as already suggested) accessing email by dialup?"

      Certainly in the case of the B&B bloke, yes. A decent ad blocker, flash blocker and set the browser to use a minimal or "blank" custom stylesheet and basic web browsing, even on a slow connection is workable in many "casual" cases. It's obviously not suitable for all cases and might extend the duration of the "digital divide" somewhat, but it could be a workaround for many people.

      Do browser still have the option to "turn off" graphics so they only load if you click them?

      I'm certainly not denigrating the article or the efforts of the author, and a hardware solution is always better, but where it's not practicable, dial-up "could" work with a bit of effort and learning on the part of the users until something better comes along. Certainly better than a 14+ mile round trip by car to check email.

      1. Oninoshiko

        Re: Thank you to all concerned

        Do browser still have the option to "turn off" graphics so they only load if you click them?

        No, as of firefox 23 Mozilla has helpfully removed that option for you.

        1. Danny 14

          Re: Thank you to all concerned

          Greasemonkey script for that.

    3. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Thank you to all concerned

      "... a decent short term solution (with fewer challenges) might imo have been taking bookings by phone rather than Internet ..."

      Possibly - it depends how many bookings are lost as a result of the current library-trip set-up. I don't know what minority I'm in, but no email/web booking service = no booking at all. I simply do not want to talk to someone to make a booking - it is inefficient and time-consuming. Also, in the event of dispute later, I want to be able to refer to what was sent.

      The standard of internet provision up here on the east side of Scotland (which is all I know about because it is where I live) is atrocious. I currently live six miles from the centre of Dundee (the fourth largest city in Scotland), and there is no fibre anywhere around here, and, according to the maps, no plans to put it in. Coming down to ADSL after years of VM goodness is a real let-down. Oh, and for the "well, you chose to live there" - I'm glad you are in a position to choose where you can get work and promotion.

      1. John 62

        Re: phone vs email booking

        It's good to have both. A B&B owner can't be in all the time and will have other things to do other than answer the phone when they are in. Having internet access also has other benefits for finding information that you would otherwise have had to drive to the library for, so now the B&B owner is actually more likely to be in and able to answer the phone to help with any customer queries.

  11. TaabuTheCat

    I can hardly wait...

    to see Bill's roof six months from now, covered with antennas. No good deed goes unpunished! :)

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: I can hardly wait...

      Place your bets on the next IT news stories, say in a year or two. Is it:

      A. In a philanthropic move to rival Google, The Register has launched it's first broadband service.


      B. In a developtment that has shocked privacy activists The Register has been accused of passing all its users' emails to GCHQ and the NSA. An El Reg spokesdroid whined that 'it was the victim of secret court orders forcing it to do so'.

      Or take an outside bet on:

      C. Princess Diana working as Elvis Impersonator in nightclub on moon!

  12. James O'Shea

    never fails to amaze

    These articles never fail to amaze me, the amount of trouble that some in Ye Mother Country(tm) have to go to to get broadband. Many, many, MANY years ago I was residing at the top of a mountain (yes, really) in deepest rural Jamaica (Mavis Bank, where Blue Mountain Coffee comes from.) and we had ADSL without problems. Well, except for the insignificant fact that the local phone company then was Cable & Wireless (Jamaica), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cable & Wireless (West Indies), later Cable & Wireless (Caribbean), possibly better known as the _real_ Pirates of the Caribbean. The connection was slow, and hideously expensive... but anyone who could afford it could get a connection, almost anywhere on the island. And yet, more than a decade later BT can't run a signal into _Scotland_? What have y'all done to them, why they hate you so much? (Note that C&W(J) was so beloved as to be referred to as Completely Worthless Jackasses and other, less complimentary, names, but that as they could smell a profit from ten miles away, against the wind, they delivered broadband _quickly_. They also tried, and failed, to add a special 'network charge' to allow users, dail-up and .broadband, to connect to _their_ network. Yes, they tried to say that they owned the Internet. That didn't last long.)

    Hmm. Just checked the Wiki entry for 'Mavis Bank'. It's correct in that it's about 10 miles to Kingston, in a straight line. Unfortunately, straight lines aren't easy to come by in deep rural St. Andrew.

    1. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: never fails to amaze

      What's the population density like in Jamaica? In Scotland, draw a line from Ayr, up the west coast to Greenock, then along the Clyde and Forth rivers past Glasgow to Edinburgh, then up the East Coast to Inverness, and down the East Coast to Berwick. Most people live near that line, and the rest of the country is pretty much empty. If you live in a big town or city, then you will get telecommunications subject to the usual problems that afflict every communications provider in the world. Elsewhere, it isn't so easy.

      As far as I can see in Jamaica, obviously lots of people live in Kingston, but the rest of the population seems to be more evenly spread out.

  13. Jabba

    Tune to maximum smoke ?

    We link our D-Star repeater using a similar set up, although we use Deliberant kit. The only thing I missed was to dial in the actual distance between the two panels. Loads of packet loss ensued until I fixed that. Its been running flawlessly for over a year now.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm really glad to see that innovation still exists where internet connectivity is concerned, although I have to agree with several commenters that BT should be the ones taking the lead on this.

    Yes, so the 'business benefits' are not necessarily immediately visible, but if a BT droid was to actually go round the villages showing off how quick 5Mbps is compared to the piddly current state of affairs, they might just find that there would be a LOT of demand for a more... innovative way of getting broadband.

    Oh. Hang on. They did. And priced it so high the locals told them to f*** off in no uncertain terms.

  15. NoneSuch Silver badge

    How far of a distance does this cover? Read the article twice and didn't see that.

    1. Bill Ray (Written by Reg staff)

      Apologies for missing that, I think it got cut during one of the editing rounds.

      The link to Claire's house is just over 5km, the link to Ronny's is just under 2km. Claire's link is much faster thank's to the uncluttered Fresnel zone.

      I'm now looking for someone in Nairn with a sea view, for the next stage of the plan...


  16. AJ MacLeod

    The funny thing about this particular episode in the saga is that unless I'm very much mistaken, a good few years ago I used the ADSL connection in the very house in question here to provide a link to another building a few fields away!

    Granted it wasn't a particularly wonderful ADSL connection but it worked. As did the link, remarkably reliably (just bog standard 802.11G bridge with reasonable POE APs and a Yagi at either end.)

    The only fly in the ointment was the router having to live, unsecured, in a cupboard which guests and others had access to; the inevitable periodic resets were the usual cause for lack of connectivity at the other end. Why people invariably go to the effort of finding something pointy enough to prod the reset switch instead of just pulling the power cable out or even just switching it off at the wall I will never know...

    1. M Gale

      Given that holding that reset button in for 30 seconds gets rid of the password as well, I'm wondering whether just hot gluing the damned hole shut would work?

      If you ever need a factory reset, the router has screws on it, no? Or just pick the hot glue "plug" back out again.

  17. Knoydart
    Thumb Up


    Top marks for making it happen. There must be a case for an El reg ISP? You could even go multinational by using the Iberian branch as the off shore call centre but not sure how good Donkeys are at being level 1 tech support?

  18. Bill Buchan
    Black Helicopters

    +1 for Ubiquiti kit

    We here in rural jockoland - land of whisky, etc (thanks for the stereotypes) have got slightly more ambitious plans. A complete village or two.

    To that end we set up and have two or three long range links working just fine. We're using the Ubiquiti Nanostation M5's and are getting hundreds of meg of link across 10+ miles. Dead reliable too, until someone decides to let their dog chew a cable or turn off power to redo their kitchen.

    Just about to install a full ISP credible AAA package using Mikrotik routing kit - lovely stuff. Bonding, authorisation, authentication and accounting, with PPPoE thrown in.

    Its not that difficult, and since BT have basically given up with us in this area, much in demand.

    Given that BT get around £30-£45 per household for a shockingly bad phone and internet service and the Ubiquiti and Mikrotik stuff is practically disposable - its not hard for the numbers to stack up.

    ---* Bill

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: +1 for Ubiquiti kit

      "Given that BT get around £30-£45 per household for a shockingly bad phone and internet service and the Ubiquiti and Mikrotik stuff is practically disposable - its not hard for the numbers to stack up."

      Plug VOIP enough and people might even dump their crackly old BT landline and you stick that to BT as well! Good on you!

    2. Christian Berger

      Re: +1 for Ubiquiti kit

      Well the Ubiquiti kit certainly looks good on paper, but the real world experiences I've heard about them were really bad. Apparently they change channels which makes the links break.

      1. Danny 14

        Re: +1 for Ubiquiti kit

        2 years here, 30+ APs, 3 rocket LOS links, 3 ssids, 2 vlans one using guest captive portal. It has never missed a beat ever. Upgraded software along the way - one ap bricked once (replaced under warranty no quibbles). They do change channels if one channel is crowded, the only kit that didnt like this (out of every device we have) was a brother 2170 wirless printer, i locked the channel of that AP it connected to. You can turn off adaptive if you like.

        we never have more than 15 items per AP though so perhaps if they are more heavily loaded. We have an average of 150 wireless devices in use at any one time. It cost a tenth of a ruckus system.

  19. Christian Berger

    If you have more people

    You might want to look into meshed radio networks. The Freifunk communities (not only) in Germany have several (near) turn-key solutions. For example Freifunk Oldenburg und Freifunk Franken offer ready to use firmware images for a small set of cheap routers. Those are designed to both open a VPN between Internet connected nodes and an Internet gateway, as well as form a meshed radio network. This solution uses B.A.T.M.A.N. Advanced which is Ethernet based. So you get a large Ethernet with all it's advantages and disadvantages. Nodes generally don't need any individual configuration, though setting the root password to something other than ffol is recommended.

    The slightly older solutions are based on OLSR. That's a more traditional routing algorithm which works on IP. That makes it a bit harder to configure, as every node needs to have an IP-Address.

  20. Panicnow

    Universal service, or Subsidising others life choices

    Hmm, Do I want to pay taxes for people who CHOOSE to live in the middle of no-where.

    I know plenty of people who move to accessible places to enjoy the benefits.

    Next thing these people will be asking for subsidised petrol to help fund their unsustainable life styles

  21. Bob H

    How is this for torment: my in-laws (abroad) have fibre passing through the village, their mini-exchange has been upgraded to provide VDSL, but the phone company won't fit the line cards....

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