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The Scottish government has launched a £25m programme to address 4G mobile network “not-spots” in Scotland, with 16 sites around the country – but mostly in the Highlands – identified to receive funding for new mobile masts and towers in areas where no coverage yet exists.
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The Scottish 4G Infill Programme comes about after an extensive consultation process and was developed by the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT). It aims to improve mobile connectivity for local residents and businesses, and it is hoped the scheme will eventually be rolled out to between 60 and 70 further locations.
The programme was launched at the spring Convention of the Highlands and Islands (CoHI), a biannual series of meetings run by Holyrood that seeks to strengthen alignment between the Scottish government and member organisations to develop sustainable economic growth.
“Widespread high-speed and reliable mobile coverage is just as vital as broadband, and ensures that people, communities and businesses are able to stay connected,” said Scottish government secretary of rural affairs and connectivity, Fergus Ewing.
“Improving mobile coverage across Scotland is key to achieving our ambition to become fully digitally connected. Our innovative Mobile Action Plan outlines how we are working with industry and other partners to improve coverage.
“The Infill programme will target the areas where it can make the most difference, achieving better and cost-effective connectivity in some of our most remote and challenging areas,” said Ewing.
SFT chief executive Peter Reekie added: “Over the past three years, SFT has been working closely with industry to create a collaborative platform for the development of a publicly funded intervention to extend 4G coverage into the more remote rural areas of Scotland.
“This has enabled SFT to take into consideration their feedback, build on the experience gained from our pilot projects and incorporate the lessons learnt from similar programmes.
“After the successful bidder has been selected, SFT looks forward to working with them and the mobile network operators to identify as many 4G not-spots that can be addressed within the programme’s budget. The deployment of future-proofed mast infrastructure will then act as the catalyst to deliver good quality 4G coverage to those areas for the benefit of the local communities, businesses and tourists.”
Meanwhile, Wireless Infrastructure Group (WIG) – an operator of small cell and wireless networks – is expanding a programme to address rural 4G mobile network “not-spots” in the Highlands through a partnership with Scottish Water, through which the utility is allowing it to install network infrastructure at its rural sites.
Ahead of the CoHI meeting, WIG has switched on a new mobile tower at a Scottish Water site that will cover the rural communities of Milton and Kildary just north of Inverness, as well as a 15-mile stretch of the main A9 road.
The facility has been set up alongside mobile network operator (MNO) O2, which has now switched on 4G from the tower to serve its customers in the region – with other operators, and potentially other rural wireless network providers set to follow in the near future.
In this case, designing and building the new tower to a taller height of 50m has enabled an estimated three times the 4G signal range than achievable using traditional masts, equivalent to an extra 10 miles along the A9.
“It is hugely encouraging to see the difference that projects like WIG’s are making to rural connectivity across Scotland,” said Holyrood’s Ewing.
“Investment in higher capacity mobile infrastructure is key to bringing digital services to the communities of the Highlands and Islands. We are working to deliver improved mobile connectivity across Scotland, exemplified by today’s announcement on the new 4G Infill Mobile Programme,” he added.
Scott Coates, chief executive of WIG, added: “This new tower is part of a much wider investment programme targeting rural mobile “not-spots” in Scotland where we plan to double our presence over the next three years. Milton is a great example of the difference that investment in high capacity infrastructure can make to rural connectivity and the importance of collaboration in delivering it.”
The organisation has plans to invest £1bn in network infrastructure around the UK, in both rural and urban areas. It has already stated its intention to bid for the contract to become Transport for London’s (TfL’s) wireless infrastructure partner for mobile services on the London Underground.