5G to be brought to Shetland

The RAC Foundation found 4,561 miles of road in Britain has no basic mobile phone coverage
The RAC Foundation found 4,561 miles of road in Britain has no basic mobile phone coverage

An overseas telecommunications network has unveiled plans to enhance mobile phone coverage across Shetland by bringing high-speed 5G technology to the isles.

Representatives from state-owned Faroese Telecom visited Shetland to present the ambitious proposal.

Shetland Islands Council’s chief executive, Maggie Sandison, said the local authority would be keen to hold meetings with the UK and Scottish governments about the scheme.

The project would require a licence to be given to Faroese Telecom to enable it to operate in the Northern Isles.

Orkney Islands Council confirmed that the telecoms company had also presented a similar proposal.

Mrs Sandison said: “Faroese Telecom were presenting their business delivery model for broadband and 5G.

“They are committed to delivering 100% coverage to the community, they have a delivery model that is demonstrated to be working in remote rural settings and an ambitious plan to future-proof their infrastructure and services.

“This proposal would require licensing from the UK government as well as the regulator Ofcom.

“The council has asked for more information about this and would be keen to ensure that early conversations are held with UK and Scottish governments to promote this solution, if it can meet Shetland’s needs.”

She said the issue of how the idea would work in practice is unclear at the moment.

The 5G technology involved, which is expected to herald download speeds of more than 1,000Mbps, is not yet available in the UK.

Operators like Vodafone and O2 have already successfully bid for bandwidth, however, and coverage is expected to be rolled out in the coming years.

In 2016 Faroese Telecom – which says it gives its Faroese customers 100% mobile coverage – indicated its desire to branch out into Shetland and Orkney.

Its subsea fibre optic cable already comes ashore in both Shetland and Orkney, linking Faroe, the Northern Isles and the Scottish mainland, and the company previously said it could provide the necessary “backhaul”.

Tourism chief Marvin Smith warned that there would have to be a change in policy with the government if Faroese Telecom were to get a foothold in the UK market.

He said: “They said that they have the capability to bring much improved mobile to Shetland but unless the UK licensing policy changes then there is no opportunity to do so.

“What needs to happen is that the UK Government would need to bring in regional licenses. It will be a difficult to convince them because it could be a very complicated situation if regional licences existed.”

A 5G trial is due to take place in Orkney by a consortium including IT company Cisco and the University of Strathclyde.

It is expected that the capabilities of 5G will bring benefits far beyond people simply using their phones, with advances predicted in virtual and augmented reality, self-driving vehicles and connectivity between mobile devices and household appliances.