EE takes aim at emergency services with Scottish Highlands and Islands 4G network

Telecommunication Tower for 2G 3G 4G 5G network during sunset. Antenna, BTS, microwave, repeater, base station, IOT. Technology concept in internet and mobile communication

BT’s mobile arm EE has switched on new 4G sites in some of the most remote areas of Scotland in an effort to improve the capabilities of emergency services.

Consumers and businesses also stand to benefit from the multi-million pound deployment, which today encompasses 13 new masts across the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. But EE is particularly keen to talk up the health and safety angle of the newly-extended network.

Two sites have gone live on the island of Jura, for example, delivering coverage to Jura Medical Practice. These will enable the surgery to communicate more effectively with on-call doctors as well as the helicopter landing pad, located a short distance up the coast.

“The new connectivity has delivered a hugely important boost to our day-to-day operations. Our helicopter landing site is used in the most critical situations, and so the importance of fast and reliable communication cannot be underestimated,” explained Dr Martin Beastall of Jura Medical Practice, in a statement on Tuesday. “Having access to EE’s 4G network means we can operate more effectively and ensures that we have a reliable connection to communicate when we need it most. The local area is popular with walkers and hikers, so to have access to 4G in an emergency is reassuring for both our staff and the public.”

The rollout was undertaken by EE in partnership with the Scottish government, the Scottish Futures Trust – a non-departmental government body tasked with improving infrastructure investment – and managed network services provider WHP Telecoms.

The operator plans to switch on sites in a further six remote locations this year, providing an important comms link for Scotland’s emergency services, including Mountain Rescue.

“Thanks to this £28.75 million Scottish government programme, local residents, businesses and visitors in all these communities can access 4G for the first time, enhancing how they work, communicate and access public services,” said Innovation Minister Richard Lochhead. “Availability of 4G services also creates more opportunities for businesses in the area, helping them improve their efficiency and productivity.”

Indeed, also on Tuesday, Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) published an economic model by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) which claims that better rural connectivity could deliver a £65.1 billion boost to the UK economy.

The study claims that better broadband could increase rural employment by 6.8%, or 284,000 new jobs, improving the prospects of a whole raft of industry sectors, including tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and small businesses.

“At a time when communities across the UK are struggling, this new analysis demonstrates how improved rural connectivity could herald a Great Rural Revival,” said VMO2 CTO Jeanie York, in a statement. “The last decade has seen fixed and mobile networks rolled out to new corners of the UK, and now the transformational potential of connectivity has been made clear with the ability to unlock £65 billion of new growth in rural areas.”

To offer a real-world example of some the benefits that connectivity could bring, VMO2 has partnered with the Welsh Government and rural coverage specialist Wavemobile to deliver 4G mobile connectivity – backhauled via satellite – to the South Stack nature reserve, which is overseen by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

In addition to giving visitors reliable signal in what is a remote location, the network is also boosting the visitor centre’s coffers by enabling it to take cashless payments.

Rural connectivity in the UK seems to be having a bit of a moment under the spotlight. On the same day that EE’s and VMO2’s announcements came out, the Royal Mail launched a drone delivery service between three Orkney islands. And if that wasn’t enough, Vodafone last week detailed how it is improving rural 4G connectivity with discreet 4G signal boosters deployed in church bell towers.


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