Actions always do speak louder than words. Mary Galbraith, Labour’s candidate for Argyll and Bute in the 2015 General Election, is constantly told of weak mobile phone reception, ‘not-spots’ with zero coverage and service outages lasting for days right across Argyll & Bute.
She made it her mission to bring local mobile phone services up to standard; and to ensure that Argyll & Bute rises from the bottom of the league table for mobile coverage.
Far from complaining and saying ‘Something must be done’, she has thought about the issue from a different angle and has now got it to the point of potential universal resolution across Argyll and the Isles.
Mary – shown above canvassing on Gigha at the island’s music festival, had a brainwave. Following it up, she discovered that her insight was correct and that there is a solution to the connectivity problem that blights Argyll.
Better again, the solution is fast, simple and inexpensive – and, according to Mary, can transform mobile phone services here.
Best of all, she has negotiated with the key player and with the main mobile service providers, leaving the track cleared for the implementation of the real answer to the black hole that swallows up our efforts to communicate.
It is now over to the service providers, with nothing whatsoever standing in their way to getting competent connectivity to Argyll and Bute.
The Labour candidate’s brainwave was about Airwave – the network for the emergency services, the network that covers something like 99.9% of the geographical territory of the United Kingdom [and of Argyll], not, like the mobile phone network, 98% of the population– which means everywhere but Argyll.
The reason for the difference is obvious. The emergency services never know when or where they will be called upon. Scrub fires, for instance, can happen in the most remote places; aircraft can fall from the sky and yachts go aground, all in out of way places. And the emergency services must be able to be reached and to communicate at all times in all places.
So Airwave – whose system is based on Terrestrial Trunked Radio [TETRA] – has all that infrastructure to make communication across 99.9% of the geographical territory of the UK already in place, taxpayer funded. You can see now where Mary Galbraith was going with this one.
She has established that Airwave can – and is ready to – share its masts and base-stations with mobile phone operators.
This week Mary has written and spoken to all four major mobile companies, asking them take up the offer from Airwave to share infrastructure, so that they can enhance mobile coverage and provide more reliable services to local subscribers and visitors in Argyll.
We understand that the companies are already in discussion with their own technical experts and are seeing that the Airwave relationship could solve service problems elsewhere, as well as in Argyll. This has been a game changing intervention.
She says: ‘Because it’s a vitally important network, providing virtually 100% coverage to the emergency services, Airwave masts and base stations are already in all the right places. They have invested heavily in the area, surveying sites, obtaining planning permission, putting in place road access and power supplies.’
The Airwave network is used by police, fire and ambulance services across the UK, providing officers and staff with communications handsets, vehicle units and mobile services. These taxpayer-funded agencies pay usage fees for services, and it is these national public funds that have helped to finance the existing infrastructure.
‘I’ve been in discussion with Airwave and have received confirmation that their base stations and masts can be shared with EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – at only relatively small cost to the mobile phone companies for their own energy usage and available with immediate effect.
‘So they have no excuses – there is nothing to stop mobile phone companies improving transmission in the area now.’
Typically, mobile phone companies cite difficulties with planning permission and setting up new power supplies to remote sites as expensive barriers that stop them improving coverage across large swathes of Argyll & Bute.
Users who subscribe to one network often find that their coverage is patchy, as they drive across the area. As a result, satisfaction levels are low, and Argyll regularly ranks as the poorest in the UK for coverage.
‘I’m determined’, says Mary, ‘that people across Argyll & Bute get access to 21st century technologies; and that living and working here should not put people at a disadvantage.
‘Local businesses, such as haulage companies, tell me the intermittent mobile coverage is both inconvenient and costly.
‘There are safety considerations too, and mobile workers like doctors, nurses and care staff would also benefit from mobile access when they’re on home visits.
‘Whether you’re a teenager sharing photos with friends on Facebook, or a visitor reviewing a restaurant on Tripadvisor, it’s important that we don’t exclude people in Argyll & Bute through lack of mobile digital technologies.
‘Ultimately, we all want to encourage young people to stay here, or return after their studies. And reliable mobile services that cover the whole area are part of the package that we need to reinvigorate our communities and sustain our population.’
The bliss of this is its sheer practicality, achievability, affordability and immediacy.
The infrastructure is all there. All the mobile phone companies have to do it hook in. All they have to pay, as they would do anyway, is for their own energy usage. They would have no reason to charge any premium on the service to users or ask for any subsidy from government. And it can be done now.
The workmanlike way Mary Galbraith has gone about taking this issue by the scruff and shaking it out to get an answer says a lot for the value of the skills she brings to her politics as an experienced business consultant.