Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) has deployed six new 4G masts on the remote Scottish Island as part of its role in the government’s Shared Rural Network (SRN) project 

This week, VMO2 has revealed it has used helicopters to deliver 4G masts to the island of Islay in Scotland due to its highly rural nature and lack of supportive infrastructure. A total of six masts will be deployed on the island, a move that the operator says will make a dramatic improvement in connectivity for local people and businesses.  

The move is a part of the VMO2’s commitments to the £1 billion SRN programme, a public–private partnership that will see the UK’s operators deliver connectivity to some of the UK’s most hard-to-reach areas. VMO2, EE, Three, and Vodafone are jointly aiming to expand the geographic coverage of 4G to 95% of UK by the end of 2025 as part of the project. This involves upgrading existing infrastructure as well as the deployment of new equipment, all of which will be shared between all four operators. 

The SRN is backed by £500 million of public funding, with an additional £500 million provided by the mobile operators. 

When it comes to Islay, only 60% of the island has 4G coverage from all four mobile network operators. However, after the SRN upgrades have been delivered, this will increase by 20%. 

“Argyll and Bute has languished behind other areas due to our geography and logistical challenges, including 22 inhabited islands,” said Councillor Liz McCabe, Policy Lead for Islands and Business Development. “However, over the last number of years significant investment has been made and we have seen major coverage improvements. The SRN programme will enhance this further with multiple operator coverage improvements to many parts of our remote rural areas.” 

“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,” added Paul Kells, Director of Network, Strategy and Engineering at Virgin Media O2. 

The SRN programme was launched in 2020 and has made relatively slow progress due to the vast amount of planning and research into new sites for deployment. However, this has improved in recent months, with VMO2 announcing in May that their SRN rollout had reached 50 sites, covering an additional 2,200km2 of land with 4G connectivity. In March, Vodafone also announced that they had reached 57 sites. Other Operators have also made significant progress in their rollout. As of August this year, Three UK had completed the construction of its 100th site, and EE became the first mobile operator to reach the milestone of building or upgrading 1,500 remote sites across the UK. 

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