MOBILE phone company EE has announced it will be the first provider to make 4G data available throughout much of Shetland.
Speaking at Saturday’s meeting of the isles’ digital forum at Islesburgh, EE public affairs manager Alex Jackman said 4G services would start being offered through its existing mobile phone masts later this year.
Work on masts including Bressay, which provides the signal for Lerwick, will begin this summer. In addition the company is aiming to add 15 or more new sites to “fill remaining holes and provide significantly increased coverage in land and out to sea”.
Jackman said EE had begun looking for new sites in October and said talks with landlords had been “positive”.
In December, EE was awarded the contract to provide the UK’s emergency services network.
Jackman insisted, however, that its Shetland upgrade was part of the company’s own investment programme and was unrelated to the emergency contract, which he believes EE won because of the strength of its network.
“Overall, what this means for Shetland is refreshing and upgrading our existing masts,” he said. “In addition, we’re building a substantial number of new sites, all of which will carry 4G.
“Once everything is online, Shetland will have exceptionally good 4G service across the majority of the islands.”
He said EE was going from patchy 2G and 3G coverage to a “much wider and much faster” network.
Telecoms regulator Ofcom says that 4G technology is generally between five and seven times faster than 3G, making it much easier to browse websites, download content and watch high definition videos on mobile devices.
While only EE customers will benefit at this stage, Jackman said mobile phone providers “all compete on extent and speed and quality of coverage that we provide – what you’ll tend to find is if we come here [others will too].”
Local politicians including Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, who hosted the digital forum meeting, and SIC leader Gary Robinson welcomed the upgrade.
Scott said he hoped it would put the onus on other mobile phone providers to follow suit.
"EE are now obliged to provide geographic voice coverage across 90 per cent of the UK landmass by 2017, which includes Shetland," he said.
"This is the new emergency call coverage system and could really help mobile phone coverage across all parts of Shetland.
"I look forward to seeing EE's rollout over the coming months, with 15 new sites for 4G mobile phone masts in the pipeline. I also welcome the excellent suggestion for an EE shop in Lerwick and I have written to the company's chief executive to press for this."