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Faroe keen to bring high speed 5G to isles

FAROESE Telecom has reiterated its desire to improve mobile coverage in Shetland – this time by bringing 5G to the isles.

Representatives from the state-owned company visited Shetland last week to present an ambitious proposal to bring 100 per cent high speed 5G mobile data coverage to the isles.

Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said the local authority would be keen to hold meetings with the UK and Scottish governments over the proposal – if it met Shetland’s needs.

It would require a licence to be given to Faroese Telecom to enable it to operate in the Northern Isles.

Marvin Smith of Shetland Telecom is pessimistic, however, over whether the UK Government would begin issuing regional licences to allow the Faroese idea to happen.

Shetland News attempted to contact Faroese Telecom chief executive Jan Ziskasen throughout the week for comment, but he did not respond in time for publication.

A spokesperson for Orkney Islands Council confirmed that the telecoms company had also presented a similar proposal to its officers.

5G, which is expected to herald download speeds of over 1000Mbps, is not yet available in the UK.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison pictured in February.
SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison pictured in February. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

Operators like Vodafone and O2 have already successfully bid for bandwidth, however, and coverage is expected to be rolled out in the coming years.

“Faroese Telecom were presenting their business delivery model for broadband and 5G,” Sandison said about the company’s visit to Shetland.

“They are committed to delivering 100 per cent coverage to their community, they have a delivery model that is demonstrated to be working in remote rural settings and an ambitious plan to future proof their infrastructure and services.

“They discussed a proposal that could offer improvement to mobile coverage in Shetland – 100 per cent 5G. Improving both mobile and broadband services is a political priority for the council and we understand community priority so would support any project which would improve digital connectivity quickly for our community.

“This proposal would require licensing from the UK government as well as the regulator Ofcom. The council have asked for more information about this and would be keen to ensure that early conversations are held with UK and Scottish Government to promote this solution, if it can meet Shetland’s needs.”

Sandison said the issue of how the idea would work in practice is unclear at the moment.

Back in 2016 Faroese Telecom – which says it gives its Faroese customers 100 per cent mobile coverage – signalled its desire to branch out into Shetland and Orkney.

Its SHEFA subsea fibre optic cable already comes ashore in both Shetland and Orkney, linking Faroe, the Northern Isles and the Scottish mainland, and the company previously said could provide the necessary “backhaul”.

Marvin Smith, however, warned that there would have to be a change in policy with the government if Faroese Telecom were to get a foothold in the UK market.

“They said that they have the capability to bring much improved mobile to Shetland but unless the UK licensing policy changes then there is no opportunity to do so,” he said.

“What needs to happen is that the UK Government would need to bring in regional licenses. It will be a difficult to convince them because it could be a very complicated situation if regional licences existed.”

He added that the 4G coverage in Faroe provides between 70 and 100Mbps per device – whereas in Shetland on a good day users might only be able to get about 15Mbps.

The news comes as a 5G trial is due to take place in Orkney by a consortium including IT company Cisco and the University of Strathclyde.

It will attempt to provide a steady Wi-Fi connection on an inter-island ferry as well as enhance the visitor experience at tourist locations and allow monitoring at a fish farm.

It is expected that the capabilities of 5G will bring benefits far beyond people simply using their phones, with advances predicted in virtual and augmented reality, self-driving vehicles and connectivity between mobile devices and household appliances.

Those looking to tap into 5G on their mobiles, however would have to buy a new handset as current technology is not suitable.