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Five areas set to get 3G mobile signal

A FURTHER five small Shetland communities are in line to receive third generation (3G) mobile phone coverage after being shortlisted in a rural “not spot” programme by Vodafone.

Following a successful trial in Walls, the mobile phone giant’s rural open sure signal programme will bring coverage to Aith, Baltasound, Fetlar, Sandness and Skeld. Late last year Vodafone added Baltasound and Hamnavoe to the list of those set to receive 3G.

Vodafone said those communities have suffered from unreliable mobile coverage and slow network speeds, but by installing its “innovative” technology, they will “benefit from high quality 3G voice services, and much needed access to the internet via mobile devices”.

Communities which can demonstrate a need – those without signal which have facilities such as schools, public halls, shops and piers – were eligible. 

The mobile operator said it would now start working with “village champions” to assess applications to take part in the initiative, with the service expected to go live later in 2015.

The sure signal programme uses “femtocell” technology to provide an alternative means of bringing mobile access to locations not covered through “traditional means”, Vodafone said.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael gave a cautious welcome to the news, saying the government had threatened mobile operators with the introduction of “mandatory roaming” – whereby networks would be forced to share their signal with other operators.

“It’s welcome, but it’s only a start and it’s only Vodafone,” he said. “This isn’t something that’s just happened by accident, this is the result of the agreement that the secretary of state for culture, media and sport got from all the mobile phone companies about improving their coverage of not-spots and partial not-spots, and bringing more 3G and 4G services to areas that don’t currently have them.

“The UK Government said it would consult about mandatory roaming for mobile operators, which was something the mobile operators themselves were keen to avoid.

“As a result of government action they’ve come forward with a pretty comprehensive package [that should] eliminate a lot of not-spots, and hopefully that will then be added to by the mobile infrastructure project which is seeing more masts being built in areas that the private companies themselves would not build masts.”

Marvin Smith of Shetland Telecom – who is the “village champion” for Aith – said he would be surprised if 4G networks arrived in the islands anytime soon.  As with mobile signal and 3G coverage, it is likely to be widely available elsewhere first, unless the government intervenes.

Vodafone UK chief executive Jeroen Hoencamp said: “I am delighted that Baltasound, Fetlar, Aith, Sandness and Skeld have been shortlisted as five of our 100 ROSS communities and I’m excited about the transformation this pioneering programme could bring to the community.”

However one industry source suggested Vodafone’s extension of its 3G coverage to remote villages appeared to be being “drittled out as a PR exercise” rather than stemming from the company “actually wanting to extend the network”.