Virgin Media O2 UK Expand 4G Mobile on Uist in the Outer Hebrides

The helicopters have been out in force over Scotland’s Outer Hebrides again, this time to help O2 (Virgin Media) fly-in and install three new 4G mobile phone masts to the remote Uist islands under the £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) project, which aims to extend geographic 4G cover (aggregate) to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025.

The three masts were deploying in the area over a single Bank holiday weekend and will address a location that is known to suffer from being a partial not-spot (PNS) for mobile reception. O2 is currently building more than 35 sites in Na h-Eileanan an Iar as part of the SRN Programme. Take note that the new 4G sites may also help to facilitate the expansion of 5G and 6G networks connectivity in the future too.

NOTE: The SRN target varies between regions, thus 4G cover from at least one operator is expected to reach 98% in England, 91% in Scotland, 95% in Wales and 98% in N.Ireland. But this falls to 90% in England, 74% in Scotland, 80% in Wales and 85% in N.Ireland when looking at coverage from all MNOs combined.

Currently, over 20% of the area lacks 4G coverage from all four mobile network operators – O2, Vodafone, EE and Three UK – with signal blackspots creating an issue for local people and visitors alike. But this work should play a big role in helping to resolve that problem, and delivery faster mobile broadband speeds to boot.

However, despite the progress, the Public Accounts Committee (here) and National Audit Office (NAO) recently confirmed (here) that Three UK, Vodafone and O2 were “each likely to miss their Ofcom licence obligation to provide 88% 4G coverage by June 2024” (i.e. the target for PNS) and had requested to “discuss an 18-month extension to the PNS element of the programme” (EE has already completed this target). At present, this only impacts the PNS, not the main target for Total Not-Spot (TNS) areas, which is due by early 2027.

Jeanie York, CTO of VMO2, said:

“We are absolutely committed to bringing reliable mobile coverage to even more rural communities across the UK, having built or upgraded more sites than any other operator as part of the Shared Rural Network programme. This work is absolutely vital in closing the urban-rural digital divide that exists in the UK.”

Many rural parts of Scotland are already benefiting from our rollout of new and upgraded masts, and we are delighted to bring enhanced mobile connectivity to the beautiful area of Uist. We are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to bringing connectivity to rural communities, with our team using helicopters to deliver three new masts to Uist over the recent Bank Holiday weekend. Our Shared Rural Network rollout continues at pace, with more locations set to benefit in the near future.”

There’s also a video to go along with this news, which we’ve extracted and pasted below (note to VMO2, please use YouTube instead):

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