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3G coverage for rural villages

The Vodafone 3G signal box at the Walls hall.

VODAFONE has confirmed that customers in remote Shetland ‘not-spot’ areas Fetlar and Sandness can now gain access to 3G mobile data through its new femtocell technology.

Aith and Hamnavoe have also been connected as part of the mobile company’s Rural Open Sure Signal scheme, which has been rolled out in 35 communities across Scotland.

The project uses a mobile femtocell unit that connects to local buildings, such as village halls, and private homes.

It allows Vodafone to enable localised mobile signal and data access in some areas, which aren’t able to be connected to traditional networks by using technology similar to its Sure Signal home booster, which plugs into a broadband router.

Northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael hailed the scheme, which was previously trialled in Walls, as a “significant step forward” for mobile users in Shetland.

“It is good to see the coverage of 3G and 4G now beginning to expand in this way,” he said.

“People in the northern isles want, and are entitled to, a good quality and robust mobile network. I have never been slow to pull the mobile phone companies up on their failings.

“At the same time I am always happy to recognise improvements and this announcement is a significant step forward for Vodafone customers.”

Shetland Telecom’s Marvin Smith, described as a Vodafone ‘village champion’ for Aith, said the project has allowed locals to now access mobile phone signal, as well as data.

“The school, the local community hall and the leisure centre can all now make calls and get a great data connection,” he said.

“Previously, trivial things like the kids needing to be picked up from a football tournament or needing to make a call to say you were going to be late back was impossible.

“It makes day-to-day life much easier. People have even used the connection to send live video across the world during birthday and anniversary celebrations in the community hall.”

While the four rural communities now have access to 3G, the majority of Shetland’s Vodafone customers are still limited to 2G, which typically has a maximum download speed of 0.1Mbit/s.

In April, EE became the first company to switch on 4G for its customers in Lerwick, with the rest of Shetland due to follow suit by the summer of 2017.

Vodafone meanwhile has been criticised in recent weeks over technical problems which resulted in customers in Brae regularly being left without basic mobile phone signal.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, who raised the issue with Vodafone, invited the company to the next Shetland Digital Forum meeting in late August to discuss its future intentions in the isles.