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‘Life-changing’ 4G arrives in Fair Isle

Fair Isle. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

4G mobile data has arrived in Fair Isle – bringing “life changing” internet speeds to some on the remote island.

Engineers switched on the service on Tuesday after mobile operator O2 installed an antenna on the island.

As residents battle broadband speeds which can fail to top 0.5Mbps, some locals – including those on Vodafone, which shares masts with O2 – are now getting download speeds of 24Mbps through 4G on their phones and devices.

Engineers working on the job were even able to watch Champions League football live on 4G after finishing the work.

Local resident Eve Eunson, who is also getting 5Mbps upload speeds through 4G, described the switch-on as “life-changing”.

There was already limited 3G available to the community of around 60 people, but 4G marks a significant step up.

The poor connectivity in the island, which is located between Shetland and Orkney, has often been regarded as a barrier in areas like self-employment.

“I’m away to talk to Vodafone about getting a hotspot, so that I can enjoy 4G on all my devices without worrying about using up my phone battery,” Eunson said.

“This should make research for projects much easier, and day to day things like internet banking, sending documents and video calls to family will now be possible.”

Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

Some residents, however, are still keen to see landline broadband improved on the island.

Chloe Faita has a minimal data allowance in her mobile phone contract, meaning 4G is out of bounds, and she believes more emphasis should be placed on upgrading the traditional internet.

The French native added that it is “absurd and unfair” that folk in Fair Isle are being charged the same price for their sluggish broadband by BT as those living elsewhere.

“Even if you have some 4G, you need to use your mobile as a hotspot for a laptop if you need to do something that can’t be done on a phone – most of the older folk don’t even have smartphones,” Faita said.

“I’ve been suggested to change my contract, but having family and friends abroad, I have an international deal, and they don’t come with data.

“I can’t afford a third contract, I already have one with BT, which is not cheap and is still the only way to get a landline – most people, including me, are not ready to give up their landlines in Fair Isle.

“BT charges us the same amount as people south, who get a decent internet speed. We only get 0.4Mbps download at best. No other business would think of charging the same amount for completely different services, it is absurd and unfair.

“We have BnBs, international visitors, older people – these do need good WiFi. 4G is great, and I’m glad some people can use it, but we do need decent WiFi as well.”

A handful of Fair Isle residents have satellite broadband, but its cost is off-putting for many.

The 4G switch-on comes after Fair Isle secured guaranteed 24-hour electricity last year for the first time thanks to a new system combining wind and solar power in addition to battery storage.

Work is continuing, meanwhile, on plans to bring 4G masts to the island communities of Skerries and Foula, as well as a similar ‘notspot’ location on Shetland’s west side.

The three sites are part of Scottish Government programme to deploy 4G mobile internet to areas without any network coverage.