Scottish consortium unveils new scheme to boost 4G, 5G connectivity

Programme launched to help Scottish local authorities and public sector organisations reap the benefits from improved connectivity without overburdening their resources

Paving the way for greater 4G and 5G mobile connectivity across Scotland, a “game-changing” initiative called Infralink, funded by the Scotland 5G Centre, has been unveiled by a group of partners led by the Scottish Futures Trust.

The Scotland 5G Centre was set up in October 2019 as the national centre for accelerating the deployment and adoption of 5G and realising its economic and societal potential for Scotland.

It is an innovative partnership between the University of Strathclyde (which hosts the centre), the University of Glasgow and the Scottish Futures Trust, with investment from the Scottish government. It works to bring together academia, industry and government bodies to increase the adoption of 5G services, accelerate the roll-out of 5G infrastructure, and take advantage of advances in mobile technology to address the challenges facing rural communities in Scotland.

Infralink is one of the Scotland 5G Centre’s three “Wave 1” projects. It follows the recent announcement under the £1bn Shared Rural Network programme that 124 mobile masts will be erected in a bid to improve coverage in rural areas of Scotland and to reduce “not-spots” – places with no mobile phone service.

The exact number and location of masts will be subject to the companies finding suitable sites, agreeing commercial terms and securing the necessary planning permissions – and the Infralink programme will provide support to facilitate this.

Infralink will see the launch of a toolkit that is designed to benefit communities and businesses by helping to identify sites on public buildings for masts and antennae – easing the process of reaching agreements to install them. The toolkit aims to break down previous barriers to the roll-out of 4G and 5G infrastructure, and is expected to lead to significantly faster deployment and increased investment in digital technology.

The Scotland 5G Centre means that Scotland will be the first part of the UK to have national pricing guidance for telecoms.

The new approach will apply to potential sites on land, buildings and streets, as well as 4G and 5G technology across the country. A connectivity “marketplace” will also be launched later this year, allowing the public sector and other land and property owners to break down previous legal obstacles and ease the process of striking commercial agreements.

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“The Infralink programme provides the ideal opportunity for forward-thinking local authorities and public sector organisations to reap the huge benefits from improved connectivity without overburdening their current resources,” said Sarah Eynon, Infralink programme lead at Scottish Futures Trust. “It offers a win-win situation for both the public sector and operators, but Scottish citizens and businesses will reap the ultimate rewards.”

Paul Wheelhouse, connectivity minister in the Scottish government, added: “Infralink has been a game-changing move for Scotland’s mobile connectivity ambitions and will accelerate our commitment to next-generation connectivity, as set out in our 5G strategy for Scotland.

“The changes in the way we use digital technology to stay connected over past 12 months have shown how vital reliable digital connectivity is in all of our lives. Continued investment in mobile infrastructure, and the tools to remove barriers and make collaboration straightforward for all parties involved, is essential to Scotland’s social and economic recovery from the pandemic.”

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