Holyrood, mobile firms plan coverage boost

The Scottish Government said it will work with mobile operators to improve coverage throughout Scotland mobile even though such connectivity is officially a matter reserved for the UK Government.

The steps taken will aim to take costs out of operators’ business models in non-commercial areas and will range from “interventions” such as business rates relief through to investing in construction of new or better infrastructure.

Cabinet Secretary for Connectivity Fergus Ewing said the plan will see the Scottish Government work with the industry to maximise commercial investment in 4G mobile in Scotland and ultimately to support 5G-ready infrastructure across the country.

“This will help to ensure the Scottish Government uses its powers to guarantee people benefit from better mobile coverage, even though the primary responsibility lies with the UK Government,” said the Scottish Government in a statement.

It said that although mobile connectivity is a matter reserved for the UK Government, the Scottish Government will use the powers it has to take forward a series of actions, with tangible steps alongside public sector partners to support its ambition.

Ewing said: “Ensuring high quality digital connectivity for people across Scotland is a priority for the Scottish Government.

“That is why we are doing everything we can to improve the case for investment in Scotland, despite this being the responsibility of the UK Government.

“We have set out an ambition for the availability of world class digital connectivity across the country, and we recognise that improved mobile connectivity is an integral part of delivering that ambition.

“We have been working closely with the UK mobile network operators, and they have demonstrated a clear commitment to maximising coverage.

“Already significant progress is being made towards meeting 4G coverage obligations, but we collectively recognise that coverage gaps will still remain in some of the most rural and remote areas.

“We will identify where those gaps will be after the commercial rollout, and together with the industry will jointly design technology solutions and business models that will allow services to be delivered by operators in a sustainable way.”

Mobile operators will help design and shape these “interventions” in order to make them as effective as possible.

The Scottish Government is also publishing new research which provides evidence-based recommendations “on extended Permitted Development Rights for telecoms infrastructure and on updating planning advice.”

It said it will consult publicly this year on proposals for changes to planning legislation.

EE chief executive Marc Allera said: “EE has set a clear ambition to cover 95% of UK geography with 4G by 2020, with significant investment planned to cover many of the most rural areas of Scotland.

“The Mobile Action Plan, developed with mobile operators, will help overcome some of the challenges of extending our network and is a great example of how government and industry can work together to deliver real improvements for our customers and the broader digital society.”

Three chief executive Dave Dyson said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s proposals to extend mobile phone coverage. The changes to the planning regime should act as a benchmark for other parts of the UK which want to improve rural connectivity.”

O2 chief technology officer Brendan O’Reilly said: “O2 welcomes this Mobile Action Plan and the on-going dialogue we have with the Scottish Government to help our investment in Scotland’s mobile infrastructure proceed further and faster.

“Connectivity is now vital for many communities, businesses and public services. The plan demonstrates the importance of government and industry working together to achieve positive outcomes for communities across Scotland.”

Vodafone UK chief executive Jeroen Hoencamp said: “Vodafone welcomes the constructive dialogue we have had with the Scottish Government which has resulted in the Mobile Action Plan.

“Vodafone is investing heavily to improve mobile coverage in Scotland and bring the mobile internet to the vast majority of Scottish people, in some rural areas for the first time but we need to work in partnership to ensure the Scottish people get the best possible mobile coverage.

“There are a number of initiatives in the plan which will be helpful with planning being the most obvious devolved policy matter in need of further reform.

“We can’t improve coverage without building or upgrading our mobile network.

“What we need is a planning regime that allows us to build a network that suits the geography of the particular area in question to maximise coverage which will mean taller masts in some areas.

“We welcome reform that helps us to deliver better coverage and service to our Scottish customers.”