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Virgin Media O2 Helicopters Bring 4G Mobile Masts to Island of Islay

Wednesday, Oct 4th, 2023 (1:14 pm) - Score 3,136

Mobile operator O2 (VMO2) has today announced that, as part of the £1bn industry-led Shared Rural Network (SRN) project to help boost 4G (mobile broadband) coverage across rural parts of the UK, they’ve begun improving their service on the remote Island of Islay (Scotland) by carrying a new mast to the location under a helicopter.

The work forms part of O2’s wider effort to build more than 60 mobile sites across the Argyll and Bute area as part of the wider SRN project, with 6 of those masts due to be deployed to improve coverage in “partial not-spot” areas on the Island of Islay. But some of the sites are tricky to reach and in those locations it’s often quicker and easier to use a helicopter lift, which requires some skilled piloting.

NOTE: Just 60% of Argyll and Bute currently benefits from 4G coverage from all four mobile network operators – O2, Vodafone, EE and Three UK. This will increase by 25% after all SRN upgrades have been delivered.

The deployment of O2’s first of six new masts on the island comes only a few months after the operator announced it had reached a landmark 50th SRN site, bringing improved 4G coverage to an area approximately the size of Lanarkshire. The company has also secured planning consent for works at a further 100 sites across the UK in the near future.

We should point out that this is by no means the first time that a UK mobile operator has used a helicopter to bring a new mast into a remote location, but it is a fairly rare sight and helps to show just how much effort goes into delivering such projects. Each site also has to be connected to a good power supply and fibre optic line for data backhaul (capacity), although in some extreme locations only a Microwave link may do.

Paul Kells, VMO2’s Director of Network, Strategy and Engineering, said:

“The industry’s Shared Rural Network initiative is making a real, tangible difference to people’s lives. At Virgin Media O2, we are committed to playing our part in bringing reliable 4G coverage to rural locations all over Britain to help bridge the digital divide between rural and urban communities.

Many rural parts of Scotland are already benefiting from our rollout of new and upgraded masts, and nowhere will benefit more from our investment than the Argyll and Bute area, where we are working to upgrade more than 60 sites as part of our commitment to the Shared Rural Network programme.”

In case anybody has forgotten, the SRN is an industry-led scheme – supported by £500m of public funding and £530m from operators – that aims to help extend geographic 4G coverage (aggregate) to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025 (the 5G rollout will also benefit). The scheme essentially involves both the reciprocal sharing of existing masts in certain areas and the demand-led building and sharing of new masts in others between the operators.

However, the 95% SRN target is only when service is available from at least one operator, while the UK coverage forecast for SRN completion for all operators (i.e. geographic areas where you’ll be able to take 4G from all four providers) is actually just 84% for the same date.

The target also varies between different parts of the UK. For example, 4G Coverage from at least one mobile operator is expected to reach 98% in England, 91% in Scotland, 95% in Wales and 98% in Northern Ireland. But this falls to 90% in England, 74% in Scotland, 80% in Wales and 85% in Northern Ireland when looking at 4G coverage available from all MNOs combined.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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3 Responses
  1. Avatar photo GigabitIsBanned says:

    Good news for the SRN, hoping it continues to expand southwards too!

  2. Avatar photo Adam says:

    Great for them, but 4G only?

    Although to be honest in the UK a full 5G connection is less speedy than Threes 4G+ .

  3. Avatar photo Winston Smith says:

    Tele-Westering home.

Comments are closed

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