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Scottish Government launches procurement to cover 4G mobile ‘notspots’

Scottish Government launches procurement to cover 4G mobile ‘notspots’

Telephone box in Oykel Bridge, Sutherland - Image credit: Phillip Capper, Wikimedia Commons

The Scottish Government has launched a procurement process for a project to address 4G mobile ‘notspots’ across Scotland.

The £25m Scottish 4G Infill Programme will fund new mobile telephone masts in locations with no current 4G mobile coverage to improve connectivity for communities and businesses.

Initially, 16 sites have been identified, and about 60 to 70 areas will be targeted throughout the project.

The majority of the programme will focus on sites in the Highlands and islands without any 4G mobile coverage at all, with some others in the first round in Argyll and the south of Scotland.

The programme has been developed on behalf of the Scottish Government by the Scottish Futures Trust.

Scottish Futures Trust Chief Executive Peter Reekie said: “Over the last three years, SFT has been working closely with industry to create a collaborative platform for the development of a publicly funded intervention to extend 4G coverage into the more remote rural areas of Scotland.

“This has enabled SFT to take into consideration their feedback, build on the experience gained from our pilot projects and incorporate the lessons learnt from similar programmes. 

“After the successful bidder has been selected, SFT looks forward to working with them and the mobile network operators to identify as many 4G notspots that can be addressed within the programme’s budget.”

Announcing the launch of the procurement process, rural affairs and connectivity secretary Fergus Ewing said: “Widespread high-speed and reliable mobile coverage is just as vital as broadband, and ensures that people, communities, and businesses are able to stay connected.

“Improving mobile coverage across Scotland is key to achieving our ambition to become fully digitally connected.

“Our innovative Mobile Action Plan outlines how we are working with industry and other partners to improve coverage.

“The infill programme will target the areas where it can make the most difference, achieving better and cost-effective connectivity in some of our most remote and challenging areas.”

Last week Ofcom also launched a consultation on proposals to include service obligations for improved mobile coverage in rural areas as a condition of the licence to use the 700MHz spectrum band – currently used by digital terrestrial TV – which it plans to auction for mobile phone use in the second half of 2019.

The Ofcom announcement was welcomed by the Federation of Small Business (FSB), which has been calling for improvements to mobile coverage in rural Scotland.

Andy Willox, FSB’s Scottish Policy Convener, said: “Modern and reliable mobile connectivity is a business essential for small firms across the country.

“Despite this, Scotland’s mobile connectivity, particularly in rural areas, has been stuck in the slow lane.

“Today’s announcement by Ofcom that they will place coverage obligations on the big four operators could be transformational for the Scottish economy.

“It could spell the end of a substandard service for rural firms and help us close the Scottish communications gap.”

Ofcom figures show that only 17 per cent of Scotland’s landmass has a 4G signal from all four mobile network operators, compared to 60 per cent of England’s.

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