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Connectivity / Investment means improved 4G coverage but a third of landmass remain partial not-spots

Virgin Media O2 shared rural network mast at Walls.

VIRGIN Media O2, the company in charge of the rollout of the shared rural network project, has released an update on the local mast sites that will benefit from improved mobile coverage.

The £1 billion national programme, partly funded by the UK Government, will bring improved coverage for the UK’s four mobile network operators EE, Three, VMO2 and Vodafone.

However, even after this investment has been completed by 2027, large parts of the Highlands and Islands, including Shetland, will still not have a 4G signal for all operators.

In fact, 32 per cent of the area, including large swathes of the east and the west of the Shetland mainland as well as the North Isles, will remain partial ‘not-spots’ – which are described as “areas with 4G coverage from at least one but not all four operators”.

Prior to this work, just 26 per cent of the area benefited from 4G coverage from all four mobile network operators. Virgin Media O2 said that of the six sites earmarked in Shetland upgrades to masts in Walls, Hamnavoe, Skeld and Hagdale, in Unst, have been completed.

Upgrades to masts at Scousburgh and Fielnadringa, a 200m hill above Voe, are planned for the future. A company spokesperson said it was difficult to say exactly when this work could be carried out as there were “some dependencies to overcome”.

Local MSP Beatrice did some PR work with the company at the end of last week when she visited the company’s new 4G mast at Walls.

This week she said: “Work on the Shared Rural Network to end digital ‘not spots’ will be ongoing until an Ofcom deadline of 2027.  “At that point it is predicted that there will be 4G coverage across 91 per cent of Scotland and the Highlands and Islands from at least one mobile network.

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“Modern life is increasingly dependent on good digital connectivity. Shetland needs quality mobile connectivity, with choice and reliability.

“As I understand it, the geography of Shetland poses particular challenges for mobile coverage from traditional cellular mobile networks. But it does not mean that we should give up on fully ending ‘not spots’ in Shetland.”

In parliament last month, her party colleague Alistair Carmichael made the point that sharing masts to eliminate not-spots was not a new idea and had already been proposed more than 10 years ago. “Frankly, like many present, I would have a lot more sympathy for the companies if, in the intervening years, they had got their act together and made the necessary investment in the rural network; we would then not be where we are today,” the MP said.

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