• Jamie Stone, the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, welcomed Virgin Media O2’s investment in the Highlands and Islands during a visit to a phone mast in Ardross which will be upgraded to 4G later this year
  • As part of its commitment to the £1bn Shared Rural Network programme, Virgin Media O2 will either build or upgrade a total of 30 masts in Jamie Stone MP’s constituency over the next few months, transforming connectivity for residents, businesses and tourists
  • The Highlands and Islands is among the rural areas set to benefit most from Shared Rural Network upgrades

8 June 2023: Jamie Stone, the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, has welcomed Virgin Media O2’s investment to transform mobile connectivity in the Highlands and Islands.

During a visit to one of the company’s existing 2G phone masts in Ardross, which will be upgraded to 4G this year, the MP was updated on Virgin Media O2’s plans to build or upgrade 30 masts in his constituency as part of the Shared Rural Network programme.

Currently, just 26% of the Highlands and Islands benefits from 4G coverage from all four mobile network operators – Virgin Media O2, Vodafone, EE and Three. This will more than double to 68% after all Shared Rural Network upgrades have been delivered.

The upgrades will provide residents, businesses and visitors to the Highlands and Islands with faster and more reliable mobile connectivity than ever before, making it easier to access online services and stay connected with friends and family, while also offering them a greater choice of provider.

Jamie Stone, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: “I have long argued that no one in the UK should be disadvantaged because of where they live.

“The work being done to improve connectivity for the Highlands is most welcome. It means that businesses of all kinds should be able to compete on a level playing field with the rest of the UK.

“I am very grateful to Virgin Media O2 for taking the time to show me what they are working on, and I believe that they are setting an example of how to properly invest in rural networks.”

Paul Kells, Director of Network, Strategy and Engineering at Virgin Media O2, said: “The industry’s Shared Rural Network initiative is making a real, tangible difference to people’s lives. We’re continuing to play our part in bringing reliable 4G coverage to more rural locations across Britain, and helping to bridge the digital divide between rural and urban communities.

“Many rural parts of Scotland are already benefiting from our rollout of new and upgraded masts, and nowhere will benefit more from our investment than in the Highlands and Islands area, where we’ll be delivering 30 upgrades as part of our commitment to the Shared Rural Network programme.”

Jamie Stone MP’s visit to Ardross took place just weeks after Virgin Media O2 announced it had reached a landmark 50th Shared Rural Network site, bringing reliable 4G coverage to an area approximately the size of Lanarkshire. The company has also secured planning consent for works at a further 100 sites, meaning work can begin in even more communities in the near future.

Notes to editors

  • The Shared Rural Network was developed by the UK’s four mobile network operators (Virgin Media O2, EE, Three and Vodafone) and Government, with the aim of improving rural connectivity.
  • By upgrading existing networks and working together on shared infrastructure and new sites, the MNOs and Government will transform mobile coverage in rural areas.
  • To deliver the programme, MNOs will invest a total of £532m to eliminate the majority of ‘partial not-spots’ – areas which receive coverage from at least one, but not all, operators. The UK Government will provide a further £500m to build new masts to eliminate ‘total not-spots’ – hard to reach areas where there is currently no coverage at all.
  • SRN is a sustainable approach to the challenge of delivering rural mobile coverage. The programme will transform 4G coverage without duplicating infrastructure, minimising the impact on our countryside.
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