FSB welcomes 4G boost

Christena Irvine of the FSB.

THE LOCAL branch of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has welcomed regulator Ofcom’s plans to impose coverage obligations on mobile network operators, which could spell the “end of a substandard service for rural businesses”.

Ofcom announced last week that it was seeking to oblige operators to provide broader coverage to improve 4G mobile signal in rural areas. It follows the publication earlier this year of FSB research highlighting the need for Scotland-specific obligations to be attached to future sales of mobile spectrum.

On Monday, meanwhile, Scottish rural economy minister Fergus Ewing announced a £25 million Scottish 4G “infill programme” to fund new mobile masts in areas without existing coverage.

Bruray in Skerries is one of the 16 initial “notspot” sites to have been identified so far.

4G signal has improved in some parts of Shetland thanks to an emergency services contract awarded to EE – but several areas within the islands remain without signal.

Meanwhile the UK government has announced that 5G technology will be trialled in Orkney among other parts of the UK.

FSB Highlands and Islands area leader Christena Irvine said: “Small businesses right across the country rely on the availability of good mobile phone and data coverage to do business; it is vital both to the business and to the customer.

“However, Scotland’s mobile connectivity, particularly in remote rural areas like Shetland, has been stuck in the slow lane and it is miles behind that of England and Wales.

“Ofcom’s announcement that they will place coverage obligations on the big four operators, combined with the Scottish Government’s 4G infill programme, should provide a real boost to the Highlands and Islands economy, spelling the end of a substandard service for rural businesses and bringing Shetland much closer to its suppliers, markets and customers.

“The FSB has lobbied hard on this issue in recent years on behalf of our members and we are delighted that our efforts are bearing fruit.”

Statistics show that in 2017 geographic coverage for 4G stood at 60 per cent in England but just 17 per cent in Scotland.