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Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) has revealed the advances it has made in providing enhanced mobile coverage to the Shetland Islands, with local politicians welcoming the company’s investment in its plan to transform mobile connectivity for the community, which will see the firm build or upgrade six masts as part of the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme.
The £1.3bn SRN programme is designed to wipe so-called not-spots from the map, providing high-quality 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025. Through both public and private investment, the SRN will see new and existing phone masts built or upgraded across the UK to close down rural mobile not-spots.
The UK’s four mobile network operators (MNOs) – EE, Virgin Media O2, Three and Vodafone – have committed to improving 4G coverage and levelling-up connectivity across the UK, which has seen them invest in a shared network of new and existing phone masts, overseen by a jointly owned company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL).
To deliver the first phase of the programme, all UK mobile operators have committed to upgrading or building mobile infrastructure and extending the reach of their 4G networks to eliminate partial not-spots.
The second phase of the SRN, publicly funded by the UK government, is due to be completed in 2027, and will develop shared masts to bring 4G connectivity to areas with no existing mobile service.
The Ofcom deadline for all of the operators to meet their individual initial SRN coverage targets for partial not-spot areas is June 2024.
The Highlands and Islands region, which includes rural Shetland, is among the areas set to benefit the most from SRN upgrades. The VMO2 masts will provide what the operator says will be much-needed improvements to 2G, 3G and 4G mobile services in an area where, until recently, large swathes of the islands have experienced little to no mobile signal from most mobile network operators.
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Currently, just 26% of the Highlands and Islands benefits from 4G coverage from all four mobile network operators – Virgin Media O2, Vodafone, EE and Three. This will more than double to 68% after all SRN upgrades have been delivered.
The operator assured that the upgrades will provide residents, businesses and visitors to the Shetland Islands with faster and more reliable mobile connectivity than ever before, making it easier to access online services, and work and stay connected with friends and family, as well as offering a greater choice of mobile provider.
“Our Shared Rural Network roll-out is making a real, tangible difference to people’s lives,” said Paul Kells, director of network, strategy and engineering at Virgin Media O2. “We’re continuing to play our part in bringing reliable 4G coverage to more rural locations across Britain and helping to bridge the digital divide between rural and urban communities.
“Rural Scotland is one of the places benefitting most from our investment, with new and upgraded masts already significantly improving the region’s mobile coverage. We are committed to continuing this roll-out and bringing reliable mobile connectivity to more rural areas throughout 2024 and beyond.”
MSP for Shetland Beatrice Wishart added: “Modern life is increasingly dependent on good digital connectivity, and I believe that every area of the UK should have access to it. Island communities such as Shetland deserve and require quality mobile connectivity.
“It’s fantastic to see how [VMO2] is bringing mobile coverage to a ‘not spot’ area, benefitting the local community, which will have a positive impact for businesses, residents and visitors. Virgin Media O2 is setting an example of how to properly invest in rural networks, and long may it continue.”