VODAFONE users in the village of Walls can now enjoy a reliable 3G signal – so long as they’re within 250 to 300 metres of one of the four cells that have been set up in the village, and as long as no more than eight of them try to use the cell at any one time.
Open Femto is an extension of Vodafone’s SureSignal technology, which has previously boosted signal strength within people’s homes.
Remote communities bid to trial the technology, and Walls was one of those chosen.
“We chose Walls because it was the furthest north of all the applicants and it was an opportunity for us to test the equipment up here,” said Vodafone regional network manager John McCracken at the official launch of the technology in Walls public hall on Thursday.
Local MP Alistair Carmichael who attended the event congratulated Vodafone and the Walls community council on the trial.
“It was definitely not a given (that Open Femto would arrive here),” he said.
“There was no shortage of communities that wanted this trial, even within Shetland, and the fact that Walls have been able to bring it here is something for which the community itself deserves recognition and congratulation.
“This will potentially make a real difference to communities like this, not just here, if we can make this technology work across the whole of the country.”
The four cells are at the public hall, the Wastview care centre, Happyhansel primary school and Shetland Mussels Ltd.
Doug Forrest, of the Sandness and Walls community council, an instrumental figure in the setting up of the trial, joked that he now had to get used to making an unfamiliar announcement before meetings: “Would people please remember to switch off their mobile phones…”
Michael Tait, of Shetland Mussels Ltd, was in no doubt about the benefits to his company.
“People don’t understand about the lack of mobile signal here,” he said.
“Our fishmonger in Billingsgate Market in London can’t understand why he can’t get through.
“The seafood trade is fast-moving, and if a buyer can’t get hold of you straightaway they’ll move on to the next supplier.
“Before I had to be in the office or lose business; this has made a big change for us.”
Other Vodafone users will have to wait at least a year before they potentially see anything like this in their areas.
“We will trial it here for 12 months,” said McCracken, “and then we can look at how to use it for other similar communities in Scotland.”
Users of other networks will have even longer to wait. The government is, according to Carmichael, “investing a substantial sum of money to improve mobile connectivity and to get masts into areas that don’t currently have coverage.”
When asked how soon it’s likely to happen, he replied: “Not soon enough!”
But, he added: “There is now government money going into it, which has not been the case in the past.”