The latest part of the UK government’s ambition to improve rural mobile coverage across the country is claiming to offer people living and working in the Lockerbie area of Scotland significantly improved phone connectivity as the initial centrally funded rural mast upgrade in the area is completed, the first of more than 120 planned mast upgrades across the country, with more to follow over the next year.
The upgrade is part of the Shared Rural Network (SRN), a £1.3bn project with the UK’s four mobile network operators (MNOs) – EE, VMO2, Three and Vodafone – to improve 4G coverage and level-up connectivity across the UK.
The four major telecoms operators are investing in a shared network of new and existing phone masts, overseen by a jointly owned company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL), and their £532m investment is supplemented by more than £500m in government funding to eliminate total notspots. The coverage commitments are being enforced by UK communications regulator Ofcom.
The principle of the project is that through both public and private investment, the SRN is seeing new and existing phone masts built or upgraded across the UK to close down rural mobile notspots. These are areas of poor or patchy coverage that cannot receive a 4G signal from all four MNOs, or any signal at all, which holds back rural communities from experiencing the full benefits of digital technology.
In Scotland, the SRN is intended to see coverage from all four operators rise to a minimum of 74%, up from 44%. Coverage from at least one operator will increase from 81% to 91% by the end of the programme.
The mast upgrade programme in Scotland was made possible through £75m in UK government investment, and is designed to deliver strong and reliable 4G coverage to residents in the east of Dumfries and Galloway, benefitting people living in Boreland, Eskdalemuir, Lochmaben and other neighbouring villages.
The mast, located in the Boreland area to the north of Lockerbie, is also part of the Home Office’s controversial Emergency Services Network, which is designed to give first responders faster, safer and more secure voice, video and data on the 4G network, for better access to life-saving information in emergencies.
Read more about the UK SRN project
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- Vodafone rolls out reliable 4G to nearly 60 rural UK locations: Leading operator increases access to a reliable 4G connection across the UK, enabling businesses and customers in rural locations to enjoy faster, more reliable speeds and higher quality voice calls.
- London not calling in UK 4G to 5G mobile uplifts: Study shows mobile users in London see the smallest uplift from 5G in terms of download speeds compared with more rural regions, but also that there is little difference in the uplift in average download speeds.
Upgrading the mast also makes it usable by the four MNOs, meaning they can host and share equipment on it for the first time, offering improved signal and greater choice of provider for residents and businesses. This, says the UK government, will enable people in the area to better seize the benefits of the internet at home and on the go to stay connected with friends and family, work remotely, shop and bank online, and stream entertainment.
Commenting on the announcement, UK government minister for Scotland John Lamont said: “A reliable phone signal is one of the biggest issues faced by our rural communities around Scotland, and I am pleased the UK government has committed £75m to upgrade 120 masts across the country.
“The public and private sector are coming together to make sure people are better connected,” he said. “The upgrade in Lockerbie is just the start, and I look forward to other rural communities benefiting as part of our £1bn Shared Rural Network programme in the UK.”
Gail Macgregor, leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, added: “This is great news as good connectivity is now critical for citizens and businesses in our region. We all need a reliable service, from keeping in touch with friends and family to ordering online. This is part of our modern way of life and is an essential requirement, particularly in our rural area of Dumfries and Galloway.”