Rural Scotland will benefit from the biggest UK-wide boost in 4G coverage as part of a £1 billion move to connect the Union.
The Shared Rural Network (SRN) – which was brokered by ministers in March last year – will see EE, O2, Three and Vodafone build and upgrade phone masts to end so-called "partial not-spots", which are areas where only some mobile network operators provide 4G coverage. This means local residents cannot connect unless they are signed up with a provider that has coverage in the area.
Policy for broadband and telecoms is reserved to Westminster, which has led to accusations in the past that Scots pay just as much for their mobile phones as their counterparts elsewhere in the UK but receive much worse service.
Latest figures from Ofcom, the industry regulator, show that Scotland has by far the worst mobile phone coverage of the home nations, with just 81 per cent of its landmass currently in range of a 4G signal, compared to 97 per cent in England, 90 per cent in Wales and 97 per cent in Northern Ireland.
However, the UK Government’s deal will see 4G coverage from at least one operator reach more than 91 per cent of every electoral region in Scotland.
The Highlands and Islands will see the largest boost of all UK regions, with coverage from all four mobile operators increasing from 26 to 68 per cent.
Other regions with high proportions of rural residents are also set to benefit significantly, with coverage from all four providers increasing by 26 per cent in South Scotland, 23 per cent in West Scotland and 20 per cent in North East Scotland.
Lothian’s coverage will be boosted from 88 to 94 per cent, while Mid Scotland and Fife will rise from 53 to 78 per cent.
280,000 additional UK premises to be brought in 4G range
Overall, the SRN will bring an additional 280,000 UK premises and an extra 16,000km of roads in range of a 4G signal.
A consultation has been launched with the telecoms industry in order to identify any existing infrastructure which can be used to end "not spots" across the UK as a whole, with a particular focus on Scotland because of its infrastructure needs being "significantly" greater than other home nations.
It is hoped the scheme will help those who live and work in rural communities to benefit from improved 4G connectivity, which can be used for video calls as well as shopping and streaming TV shows on the go.
Iain Stewart, the UK Government’s minister for Scotland, said: "From Dumfries and Galloway to the Highlands, and from Skye to Shetland, this UK Government investment will improve access to fast, reliable 4G coverage for people in every corner of Scotland.
"The UK Government is working hard to level up digital connectivity, ensuring that people and businesses right across the country can enjoy the social and economic benefits of next-generation broadband and mobile coverage."
Matt Warman, the UK Government’s digital infrastructure minister, said: "Once the network is built, no government will have done more to amplify 4G coverage in Scotland. It demonstrates loud and clear how our plan to build back better is delivering for every part of the UK, no matter how rural or isolated."