Eleven ‘not spots’ in the Western Isles have been identified and earmarked for the installation of new mobile phone masts to improve coverage.
‘Not spots’ are defined as areas were no mobile coverage is available from any mobile network operators. A list of possible locations for the new mast was presented to councillors last week.
The Gazette was told by an industry insider that it is “highly likely” the vast majority of the sites will get 3G coverage following the installation. However a spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport did not confirm this. Instead he said the project “at this stage” is “committing to deliver voice and basic data”.
The development is part of the Mobile Infrastructure Project, which aims to deliver mobile services in rural areas where market-driven investment is not commercially viable. Masts for operators O2, Vodafone, EE and Three will be erected.
The eleven sites are in Back, Shader, Balivanich, Ranish, Cnoc a’ Chonaisg, Lochboisdale, Upper Carloway, Ardroil, Sollas, Nask and Swainbost.
However these sites are not yet guaranteed, and the installation of masts at these locations will be subject to technical and operational considerations along with acquisition and planning constraints.
The next stage will be Site Search and Report followed by Site Agreement with landowners, Planning Applications and finally, Build and Commission. The aim is for the sites to be acquired and built by 2015.
The Western Isles arm of the development is part of the national project which will see £150m of government funding spent on improving coverage all over the UK.
The news was welcomed by councillors at last week’s Policy and Resources Committee meeting - however concerns were raised about the roll-out of 3G. Members agreed to voice their concerns with mobile operator Vodafone.
Cllr Kenneth Murry commented: “3G should be up here in the islands with Vodafone, but they seem to be dragging their feet.”
Speaking after the meeting he added: “The lack of 3G coverage by Vodafone is an issue as they are the dominant supplier of mobile in Western Isles.
“They tend to be reticent in sharing their planned rollout of 3G/4G and with more mobile content available on smart phones and tablets it is leave us far behind rest of UK.”
Responding to the comments a Vodafone spokesperson said: “We’re always looking to improve network coverage and capacity for our customers - we spend more than £2.5 million every day doing this.”
She said the process of developing sites can take up to a year and added: “ Not surprisingly, when upgrading sites, we focus on areas with higher population first but we also have a strong commitment to bring coverage to rural areas.”
She said the company are unable to give out detailed plans of network development, however the Comhairle are given outline plans every year.