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UK Mobile Operators Blamed for Scotland’s Slow 4G Infill Scheme UPDATE

Thursday, October 31st, 2019 (9:01 am) - Score 1,489

The Scottish Government‘s £25m 4G Infill Programme, which began in March 2018 and aims to improve rural mobile coverage (mostly across the Highlands and Islands region) by building a network of 45 new masts (here), has so far not built any new sites and only 3 are expected to begin construction in the “very near future.”

The majority of this programme, which is supported by supplier WHP Telecoms, is intended to focus upon remote rural areas that are completely without coverage. Under this approach the public funding would be used to help build new masts, which mobile operators (Three UK, Vodafone, EE (BT) and O2) would then be encouraged to utilise by deploying 4G (mobile broadband) services.

According to the original plan, construction was supposed to start toward the end of 2018 and then run for 4 years until 2022. However a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee this week revealed that, so far, no new masts have completed their construction and only 3 sites a due to be finished in the “very near future” (none were named).

NOTE: We believe one out of the three sites is Strathconon, which seems to be built.

The Scottish Government’s Minister for Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, put the blame for this squarely at the feet of mobile operators. “The biggest challenge is trying to attract interest from mobile operators to actually utilise the masts,” said Paul without elaborating on the reasons why operators might not be engaging. Sadly the mobile operators themselves are being similarly coy.

A Spokesperson for Mobile UK told ISPreview.co.uk:

“The mobile industry is fully engaged with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Futures Trust about how to work the 4G infill programme alongside the recently announced Shared Rural Network to extend coverage into the remoter rural areas of Scotland.

The Shared Rural Network is a £1 billion joint initiative backed with both public and private investment and represents a step-change in rural coverage, not only in Scotland but in all areas of the country. We see our close work with the Scottish Government as an integral part of this programme.”

We can’t help but feel that this programme has shades of the UK Government’s somewhat failed £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project, which set out with similarly grand ambitions to improve mobile coverage in rural notspots but only ended up building 75 of the promised 575 masts (here).

The MIP became bogged down by a mix of problems, from delays in getting planning permission (some communities were unhappy and protested), to challenges with securing wayleave agreements via many different landowners and the inherent difficulty of getting both a good power supply and backhaul capacity to such remote locations.

Consultations are currently underway to make the planning side of such deployments easier (we await the final outcome of that) and, going forward, the Scottish Government said they expected some degree of collaboration with the new £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN); in theory this should complement their programme. We will update this article if Mobile UK ever sees fit to furnish us with their side of the story.

scotland 4g infill map 2019

UPDATE 1st November 2019

We’ve added a comment from Mobile UK, the industry trade body, above.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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11 Responses
  1. Avatar JT

    The mast at Strathconon (site 10) is actually ready to hand over to ee (besides the missing electric meter!)
    (Site constructed, power to the site and fibre broadband connected according to my last update from WHP Telecom)

    The issue, as I understand it, relates to the Home Office ESN programme formally initiating the hand over to ee and subsequent ee commissioning process

  2. Avatar Ogilvie Jackson

    Ettrick Valley 30m mast site being built now ! .Fibre on it’s way up valley on poles to mast. All good here.
    It’s been hard work , but are almost there…yipee.

    • Avatar JT

      Is your mast also part of the Home Office ESN initiative or have they been installing the white rectangular aerials on the tower?
      If part of the ESN, it will be worth checking how/when the mast is handed over to the mobile network provider as ours is ready but waiting for the Home Office to initiate the final commissioning process
      Contact WHP Telecom to get an update on their schedule

  3. Avatar Ogilvie Jackson

    No…our one is part of Scot Gov 4g infill plan (WHP) No.7
    We have 4 other ones finished in valley..all Home Office ESN..waiting to handed over to EE., no guarantee of commercial service.
    Our one has fibre to mast ( a big job),by OR. Not sure who will be on it, but they do have one !

    • Avatar JT

      the Strathconon mast is both S4Gi and also ESN (10)
      I’ve been told that the ESN is the primary mast owner which si causing the issue with our project moving forward
      Crazy delay since the fibre has been on site for a couple of months now

  4. Avatar Rob

    Scottish government should setup their own mobile company and get Huawei to supply the kit. They should allow roaming from the big 3 – VF & O2 share anyway. They should call their company Scottish Telecom.

  5. Avatar George

    I don’t regularly read this site, which is probably my mistake, but I feel I need to comment on this article. Having been involved in the surveying, construction and integration of sites like these for over 15 years, I find it absolutely astonishing that the same ‘mistakes’ are continuously made. Do we have a section of people issuing these orders that cannot seem to grasp the fact that in these rural areas, the actual build process is very, very demanding, yet they continue to issue instructions to build in the depth of winter! Short days, changeable (to say the least) weather along with low temperatures which prevent the construction even going ahead. ‘3 sites expected to begin in “the very near future”. Expect more delays.

  6. Avatar Jonathan

    I figure the Traquair mast must be built and operational. I happened to be at Traquair house the other weekend (kids Halloween event) and well there was 4G everywhere in the grounds and roundabout (including Innerleithen) for me on Vodafone. So if its not built it doesn’t need building if you ask me. Though I didn’t do any of the mountain bike trails so maybee it’s needed for them.

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