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Scotland’s most remote emergency services connected by 4G coverage

Operator reveals role in partnership to deliver hitherto unavailable 4G coverage across the Highlands and Islands to help close signal blackspots and connect emergency services across the most remote areas of Scotland

Patient safety and critical medical care have been boosted across the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland through a partnership between operator EE, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Futures Trust and WHP Telecoms, which has seen 13 new 4G masts already installed this year, with a further six areas due to be activated in 2023, connecting Scotland’s most remote emergency services.

The development is part of the £28.75m Scottish 4G infill programme (S4GI) delivering 4G infrastructure and services to areas in rural Scotland which previously had extremely limited mobile coverage. The former blackspots connected across the Highlands and Islands comprise Inverie (Knoydart); Kenmore; Achosnich; Brecklate; Elgol; Inverchoran; Rackwick; Ardlussa; Craighouse; Lochbuie; Stronsay; Stronachlachar; and Cawdor.

Showing how the new mobile coverage has enhanced patient care and day-to-day operations at the practice, EE revealed the case of a local medical centre on the Isle of Jura which has already seen a significant difference since the installation of the Craighouse and Ardlussa masts on the island, enabling it to switch to a modern voice over internet protocol phone system and providing reliable connectivity for on-call and locum staff.

The new sites will also provide vital connectivity to Scottish emergency services and Mountain Rescue. Residents, visitors and businesses will also be able to access and benefit from a reliable 4G mobile service.

There is now the ability for the medical centre to communicate more effectively with its helicopter landing pad in the event of an emergency, as well as track the progress of the flight, using the flight tracker app over 4G, ensuring on-call doctors can be reached. Previously, the landing site was a signal “blackspot”, preventing effective communication between Jura medical teams and the pilots.

“The new connectivity has delivered a hugely important boost to our day-to-day operations,” said Martin Beastall at Jura Medical Practice. “Our helicopter landing site is used in the most critical situations, and so the importance of fast and reliable communication cannot be underestimated.

“Having access to EE’s 4G network means we can operate more effectively and ensures that we have a reliable connection to communicate when we need it most,” he said. “The local area is popular with walkers and hikers, so to have access to 4G in an emergency is reassuring for both our staff and the public.”

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In all, the Scottish Government’s S4GI programme is delivering 55 masts, including those also being used by EE as part of the ESN roll-out. “Our new 4G masts in the Highlands and Islands demonstrate once again our commitment to providing future-proofed digital connectivity to residents and businesses in all parts of the country, no matter where they live,” said Scottish Government innovation minister Richard Lochhead.

“Thanks to this £28.75m Scottish Government programme, local residents, businesses and visitors in all these communities can access 4G for the first time, enhancing how they work, communicate and access public services. Availability of 4G services also creates more opportunities for businesses in the area, helping them improve their efficiency and productivity.”

Martyn Cheyne, group chief strategic officer at WHP Telecoms, said: “[We are] pleased that these shareable structures are now facilitating reliable coverage to many of the more remote communities across the Highlands and Islands.

“Digitally levelling up these not-spots is transformational, unlocking the latent talent and creativity, and allowing businesses and communities to not just retain but also attract people to grow and thrive,” he said. “Those of us in the telecoms industry are redoubling our efforts to meet the challenges ahead on the Shared Rural Network. As for every not-spot we have covered so far, there are many more which still urgently require this life-enhancing connectivity.”

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