Some mobile phone customers can expect a better level of mobile internet connections – with more than 90 per cent of the people in the isles to be covered by a 3G service in the next couple of years.
Graham Dunn, senior government affairs manager for Vodafone, told members of the Northern Isles Digital Forum on Friday that the mobile giant is investing £1 billion to improve its UK network this year.
He said Vodafone clearly understood “how frustrating it is when people can’t access the network in the way they want”.
Over the last few years the expectation of what good coverage was had greatly increased, said Mr Dunn, “people expect to be able to access stuff wherever”.
In the next 12-24 months there would be “major improvement in the the 3G and 4G coverage from Vodafone”. Well over 80 per cent in the isles would be covered by at least some 4G coverage.
Though Mr Dunn accepted there were some areas “Vodafone can’t go without some extra help” suggestions were made in the meeting that pairing up with Shetland Community Broadband could help provide 4G signal and Mr Dunn agreed to discuss this further with members of the meeting.
The mobile phone chief also spoke about the company’s Open Sure Signal programme – a larger outdoor version of Sure Signal – a plug-in piece of technology which creates a 3G signal in a home or office.
The signal box could be attached, for example to a community building, or telegraph poll and can create a fast 3G signal.
Walls is one of the first pilot areas to try the technology and Mr Dunn said another 100 areas across the UK will try out the technology, seven or eight of those would be in Shetland, such as Fetlar and Hamnavoe plus the Walls scheme, he said.
There is also a standby list of other communities who are interested.
Chairman of the meeting, Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael, said: “Twelve to 24 months is not a bad time scale for us.
“It strikes me now that there is probably some potential for helping you [Vodafone] with what you’re going to do better.”
Afterwards Mr Carmichael said the increase in 3G “had to be a major advance in where we are at the moment”.
“It also struck me today though that there’s a lot of willingness on Vodafone’s part to be innovative and creative about how they provide their service and there’s a lot of knowledge here in Shetland about how that can be done.
“I think the advantage of today’s session is that it’s given us the opportunity to marry the two together.”
Meanwhile director of Highlands and Islands Enterprise Stuart Robertson gave a presentation about fibre-optic broadband in the isles.
Mr Robertson was attending on behalf of HIE and BT who are jointly developing the £146 million broadband upgrade to the Highlands and Islands.
Mr Robertson said they were hoping to provide fibre broadband to at least 76 per cent of Shetland by 2016.
He admitted that not everyone would get the superfast speed of 24Mbps but, “many, many people will get 24 meg or better”.
In the second half of this year, it is planned to roll out the broadband to a range of locations, from Gott to Sumburgh.
Four thousand people in Shetland have been connected with the likes of Lerwick, Quarff and Dunrossness with North Roe, Reawick, Yell and Gutcher to be looked at next year.
More in next week’s Shetland Times.