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      Uist and Benbecula News

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Telecoms providers Virgin Media and O2 claim to have created faster and more reliable connectivity and addressed ‘not-spots’ in mobile reception, with three new masts installed over May bank holiday weekend.

In an announcement today (Wednesday 12 June) the companies, who are working collaboratively, said they used a helicopter to deliver three new 4G mobile phone masts to Uist.

It’s part of their joint commitment to the UK Government’s £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme, which is intended to see 91% of Scotland covered by the 4G signal by 2026.

The telecoms regulator Ofcom defines coverage based on the minimum signal strength required to deliver a 95% probability of successfully completing a 90-second telephone call.

Currently, over 20% of the area lacks 4G coverage from all four mobile network operators – O2, Vodafone, EE and Three UK.  Ofcom say that signal blackspots create an issue for local people and visitors alike.

Virgin Media O2 are currently building more than 35 sites in Na h-Eileanan an Iar as part of the SRN Programme – more than any other operator – but the Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office (NAO) have reportedly confirmed that the companies were ‘each likely to miss their licence obligation to provide 88% 4G coverage by June 2024.’

Nevertheless Alasdair Allan, MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, has welcomed Virgin Media O2’s investment in his constituency during a visit to the company’s new 4G masts.

They were flown in, using a Scottish-based Skyhook helicopter, to a rural area which, he said, had previously been at a disadvantage when it comes to connectivity.”

The MSP said: “It is fantastic to see how the company is bringing mobile coverage to this beautiful part of the world, which will have a positive impact for 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.”

Councillor Paul Steele, leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “Connectivity is so important to island living. With the population of Uist so spread out, it means that people across the islands can connect with each other more easily.

“On top of this, we are hoping to attract more people to live here, and increased connectivity certainly makes it a more attractive proposition.”

The pictures show some of the masts being dropped into position and Cllr Paul Steele on the site alongside the Skyhook helicopter (Virgin Media O2).