Government-led connectivity scheme deploys helicopters to bring 4G to Hebrides

As part of the Shared Rural Network programme, Virgin Media O2 has installed masts on Islay – one of 22 inhabited islands in an area with only 60% mobile coverage currently

The government’s £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme has supported the use of helicopters to install 4G masts on the Hebridean island of Islay.

The aircraft was deployed by Virgin Media O2 which, alongside the UK’s three other mobile network operators – Three, Vodafone, and EE – cumulatively contributed about half of the funding for SRN. The other £500m was provided by government, to support the aim of providing connectivity to remote locations around the UK.

Home to just 3,000 residents, Islay is part of Argyll and Bute, where only 60% of the council area has access to coverage from one or more mobile network. The SRN programme aims to increase this figure to 85% by building 60 new 4G masts in the region over the next three years.

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Jenni Minto, member of Scottish Parliament for the Argyll and Bute said: “It is fantastic to see how the company is bringing mobile coverage to the beautiful island of Islay, which will have a positive impact on the businesses, residents, and visitors to the area. I believe that Virgin Media O2 is really setting an example of how to properly invest in rural networks,” Minto said.

Local councillor Councillor Liz McCabe added: “Argyll and Bute has languished behind other areas due to our geography and logistical challenges, including 22 inhabited islands. However, over the last number of years significant investment has been made and we have seen major coverage improvements. The Shared Rural Network programme will enhance this further with multiple operator coverage improvements to many parts of our remote rural areas.”

The overall aim of SRN is to provide reliable mobile connectivity to 95% of the UK by 2027.

Sofia Villegas

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