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Calls for improvement to north of Scotland mobile coverage

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Scotland has the worst coverage for mobile phones in the UK, with worse services than in rural Wales, a report by the telecoms watchdog has found.

Improving mobile phone coverage in Scotland – particularly the north – must be a “national priority”, a business body has said.

Ofcom figures showed that 24% of Scotland’s landmass had no mobile signal, compared to 14% in Wales, 5% in Northern Ireland and 4% in England.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland pointed to data which showed that the Highlands and Islands continue to be the worst areas for 3G coverage in the UK.

Following the completion of phase one of Ofcom’s digital communications review, Stuart Mackinnon, a spokesman for the FSB said:

“The FSB in Scotland is particularly concerned about mobile coverage north of the border. It is absolutely unacceptable that in 2014 a quarter of Scotland’s landmass had no mobile coverage. We recognise that the UK Government’s deal with mobile operators should deliver enhanced coverage, but it isn’t clear to us when individual communities should see improvements.

“Ahead of 2016’s Scottish Parliament elections, we need to see decision-makers – including mobile operators, government officials, regulators and politicians – develop a plan to tackle this issue. “Getting to grips with this problem needs to be a national priority.”

John Cooke, Executive Director of the Mobile Operators Association (MOA) said mobile phone companies were investing £5billion over the next three years to deliver coverage improvements across the country, but expansion of networks in Scotland would require support from national and local government.

He said: “Having a mobile signal depends on having a network of masts in place. If there’s no mast, you won’t get a signal. And providing masts in rural areas is often simply uneconomic: nearly half the masts across the UK run at a loss. That’s because masts tend to be more expensive to build in rural areas, particularly in upland areas, which is the case in many parts of Scotland. At the same time, low population density means that rural masts produce less revenue.

“The operators spend around 50% more per capita on their infrastructure in Scotland than they do south of the border.

“The biggest single regulatory change that would improve rural mobile coverage would be for the UK Government to reform the Electronic Communications Code.

“Planning is also a barrier to providing telecommunications infrastructure, although, to be fair, the system in Scotland is a bit less restrictive than that in England.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Poor mobile coverage in parts of Scotland continues to be of concern to the Scottish Government, and we welcome the commitment by Ofcom that the Digital Communications Review will focus on what needs to be done to make sure services are available in areas that are not deemed commercially viable.

“Good mobile connectivity is a crucial part of our world class digital vision, recognising the importance of reliable mobile coverage for rural areas, economically, socially and in terms of emergency cover.

“The Scottish Government is committed to developing a plan to tackle this issue and the Deputy First Minister will be hosting an industry roundtable over the summer to discuss how we can collectively work together to maximise and improve mobile coverage in every part of Scotland.”

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