MOBILE phone reception in Shetland is set to get a much needed boost over the next five years after the four main network providers have agreed in principle to invest more than £530 million in a UK-wide Shared Rural Network.
The plan could potentially be matched with a further £500 million from the UK Government.
The news was welcomed by local politicians as well as Shetland Islands Council.
The SIC’s director of development Neil Grant said: “This funding announcement is welcome news and will help to improve mobile connectivity across rural Scotland, hopefully including many areas of Shetland.
“As we have all come to rely on mobile networks for a range of services, better connections will help to improve the quality of life for people to live and work across Shetland.”
The Shared Rural Network agreement will see EE, O2, Three and Vodafone open up existing mast infrastructure to competitors to close partial not-spots – areas where there is currently only coverage from at least one but not all of the operators.
It would also mean additional mobile coverage for 280,000 premises and 16,000 kilometre of roads mainly in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The move could bring 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by 2025, the UK Government said on Friday.
Digital secretary Nicky Morgan said that of the four operator agree to meet these ambitions on partial not-spots, the government would commit a further half a billion pounds to eliminate total not-spots – the areas where there is currently no coverage from any operator.
“Brokering an agreement for mast sharing between networks alongside new investment in mobile infrastructure will mean people get good 4G signal no matter where they are or which provider they’re with,” the secretary said.
“But it is not yet a done deal and I want to see industry move quickly so we can reach a final agreement early next year.”
Government minister Robin Walker added: “In Scotland coverage is predicted to more than double from 41 per cent to 85 per cent by 2025 as a result of the deal negotiated by the UK Government.
“It will ensure that people and businesses across Scotland can utilise the best quality connectivity, regardless of location or provider.”
Vodafone chief executive Nick Jeffery said: “There is no other scheme like this in the world. It will spell an end to annoying mobile not-spots for hundreds of thousands of people living, working and travelling in the more remote parts of the UK.
“By working together, we will deliver better coverage while offering more choice for consumers and businesses using far fewer masts.”
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said improvements to the mobile phone network in Shetland and Orkney were long overdue.
“We have waited long enough for the government to improve mobile coverage in the Northern Isles. I am pleased that they have finally recognised the need to invest in a rural 4G network,” he said.
“The deal will make a huge difference to so many communities in Orkney and Shetland. I am determined to make sure that the government follows through on their commitments.”
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston added: “For too many local people still have to endure the frustration of living and working in rural not-spots, and this announcement will give them some hope that an end is in sight and the problem is being addressed.”