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Mobile signal making 'life and death' difference on Scottish island

Monday, April 27th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The arrival of mobile phone coverage on a small Scottish island has brought life-changing benefits to people who live there, according to Vodafone.

The inner Hebridean Isle of Coll got mobile coverage for the first time earlier this year, thanks to a new mast funded by the Scottish Government.

The rollout, carried out in partnership with Vodafone and community organisations, also saw Coll become the first island off Scotland to have access to 4G.

At the time, the move was hailed by the Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure Keith Brown as “a massive breakthrough” which could “help transform the local economy”.

And a blog post from Vodafone has now described the benefits of finally having mobile signal for the 200 people who live on the island.

Explaining how Coll finally got mobile signal, Vodafone networks manager John McCracken said its isolated location and small population meant building a mast had previously been uneconomical or too difficult.

Vodafone usually fronts the cost of new masts, but it is not always economically viable, so on this occasion the cost was shared with the Scottish Government.

"In a lot of ways it’s not economically viable for us to build our own mast in this kind of area so from that perspective it requires other parties to come to the table," Mr McCracken said.

"The Scottish Government were keen to address the Isle of Coll and to provide something for the islanders, so they paid for the mast – the structure and power supply – and we provided the electronic equipment and communication links back into the network."

Extensive microwave network

Mr McCracken said rather than using the fibre that connects most of its network masts, they had to rely on Vodafone’s extensive microwave network in Scotland.

Thanks to the mast, Coll now has reliable 2G, 3G and 4G signal, bringing benefits that are felt island-wide, Mr McCracken said.

"There’s a youth project on the island called Project Trust and what they do is send students overseas to experience working in third world countries.

"So they’ve really benefited from the newfound signal.

"There are also other small businesses on the island, all of which are now contactable by mobile too."

The mast is so far-reaching, it is also providing better coverage on another nearby island called Tiree, he said.

Derek Graham, who runs the Demonstrating Digital Programme within the Scottish Futures Trust, and who was instrumental in helping get the mast built, said mobile signal was making a "life or death difference".

He said being able to keep in touch was making it easier for locals to go about their daily business and was also benefiting the island’s local GP.

He said: “Up until the mast was put in place she had to forward her surgery phone to any one of the houses that she’s visiting, just to make sure that if there’s an emergency anywhere on the island she could be contacted.

“The volunteers on the island from the Scottish fire and rescue are reliant on being able to communicate across the island, too, and also with the mainland.

“So just having a mobile phone can make a life or death difference.

“It’s all about being able to be contacted which we all take for granted on the mainland.”

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