Welcome to Sabugueiro, Portugal’s most connected mountain village

It’s the natural order of things for young people from rural areas to head off for jobs and opportunity in the cities when the time is right. The knock-on effect of this means communities are not only getting smaller - their populations are getting older and potentially less connected. However, one village in Portugal has found an answer: fast fibre connectivity.

Nestled in the heart of the Estrela Mountain Natural Park, the picturesque hamlet of Sabugueiro sits nearly 1200m above sea level, and is Portugal’s highest mountain village. Home to around 480 people (down from 766 in 1970). There are fewer than 10 school-age children among its inhabitants, and 45% of residents are over the age of 65.

The mountainous terrain and harsh weather conditions can make life difficult, particularly when it comes to accessing vital services such as healthcare. However, Sabugueiro is different: thanks to fast fibre connectivity, it’s officially Portugal’s first smart mountain village.

Vodafone Portugal’s Foundation partnered with the Seia Municipal Council, and a number of other organisations including energy company Energias de Portugal (EDP), to bring fast fibre to the village. The most efficient way to do this was using EDP’s existing electricity infrastructure. This required engineers to run 5km of fibre optic cable along pathways, to connect around 400 buildings; houses, local shops, community centres and council offices.

This improved digital infrastructure means more energy efficient buildings, homes and public lighting, as well as smart management of water resources and improved access to public services.

For example, at the village’s retirement home, Associação de Beneficência do Sabugueiro, residents’ blood pressure, heart rate, ECG, blood glucose, oxygen levels, and body temperature are all monitored remotely. Approximately 70% of patients in Sabugueiro feel it helps them to better understand their treatment, while giving them greater control over their own health.

The fibre connectivity also allows Sabugueiro to take advantage of Internet of Things (IoT) technology, which has helped residents cut their energy consumption by around 20%, their energy bills by 75%, and water leaks by 12%.

Most importantly though, the connectivity is helping residents to feel more connected and cared for, while living in a remote and beautiful part of the world.