Residents and businesses based in New Luce in Wigtownshire are finally able to access 4G services thanks to a programme from the Scottish government to ensure that rural notspots (areas with no mobile coverage from any service provider) are addressed.
The Scottish 4G Infill (S4GI) Programme is backed by £15 million of fuding from the Scottish Government and £10 million from the European Regional Development Fund. The programme was set up in 2018 and is being delivered by WHP Telecoms, managed by the Scottish Futures Trust.
The New Luce mast is the first of 24 scheduled to be rolled out over the next two years, with further mast sites under consideration. Vodafone is already offering 4G, 3G and 2G services from the mast, with EE expected to do so later in the year.
“Improving mobile coverage is vital to achieving the Scottish Government’s ambition to make sure everyone in Scotland has access to high-speed, reliable coverage,” commented Scottish Connectivity Minister Paul Wheelhouse. “People in New Luce are the first to benefit, but we hope that, like Wigtownshire, many more remote and rural parts of Scotland and Scotland’s islands will soon enjoy improved, cost-effective connectivity as a result of the Scottish Government’s work with industry and other partners.”
Vodafone’s Nick Jeffery noted that more than a quarter of the UK’s population live in rural areas and that they shouldn’t feel cut off from online services – whether educational or recreational. “This is why we pioneered network sharing and are keen to support this programme, as well as similar ones, in order to provide fast mobile services in remote locations while minimising the environmental impact,” he noted.
Whilst I am a great supporter of solutions that fill our rural Not Spots with functioning 4G mobile coverage, I cannot help but feel that this solution just does not make sound commercial sense. The cost of 24 rural masts is £25 million (£15 million from the Scottish Government plus another £10 million from the ERDF); each mast costing over £1 million - and that is BEFORE adding in the cost of the radio equipment (borne by the Mobile Network Operators). The total number of houses served by the new mast cannot be much more than 200 in number - resulting in a cost per house served of upwards of £5k each. This should not be too surprising - as the costs for the DCMS sponsored Mobile Infrastructure Project worked out at similar costs. Add in the operator deployment costs onto this result in a real cost of circa £5.5k per house. Bearing in mind that all of the SG4I sites were pre-reconnoitred prior to putting the task of construction out to contract - the total costs expended on this project are even higher. If we are going to make a serious attempt at filling ALL of our UK mobile Not Spots, we are going to have to come up with a solution which makes better commercial sense than this!
Hi James - yes costs always worry me when government gets involved. The new space race seems to be telecoms, with everyone showboating currently. New Luce appears to have a population of 652, so your analysis of cost per house is probably roughly correct. I guess we can balance up with the argument that it may help connect businesses (creating and sustaining jobs), and there might be visitors to the area to take account of, as well as that utilities have a long history of cross-subsidy, as some locations are more expensive to deliver post to or build out network to etc. However, your broad point is how do we fill in our remote Not Spots in a sensible fashion. That's the sort of question that's not asked enough because strategy is frequently determined not by an informed discussion but by lobbying. I look forward to hearing suggestions from readers.