Game changing intervention as Labour candidate resolves Argyll black hole for mobile phone signal


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.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • Brilliant Mary it is great news for Argyll.

    Cheers Neil.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 3

    Neil MacIntyre October 9, 2014 7:24 pm Reply
  • I wouldn’t want to put a downer on the excitement but I recall reading that the Tetra system uses a lower frequency spectrum than mobile phones. This means that the wavelength is longer and that’s how the wider geographical coverage is achieved. So, whilst coverage may be extended there shouldn’t be an expectation that it will be as wide as suggested. Given that O2 used to own the company I’m sure they would have thought of using it for domestic purposes if they could have made money out of it. Any improvement is welcome though and at least someone’s having a go.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

    keith stanger October 9, 2014 7:40 pm Reply
    • Airwave has been owned by MacQuarie for some years now, Keith. It’s not clear to me why BT/O2 oversaw only very limited interaction between its mobile telephony division and its Airwave business. I guess it’s a possible feature of being part of a major conglomerate, when different operating units fail to collaborate. But from what I’ve learned there’s a very disappointing amount of infrastructure sharing in general, and I’m not sure that O2 is any better than the others on this measure.

      On spectrum, you are right that this is a consideration. But it’s not an excuse, as the mobile companies themselves agreed in my conversations with them. Especially now that some mobile companies have bought different spectrum lots in last year’s auctions – both 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands.

      Getting the mobile coverage levels we need is going to take a mix of solutions – and many communities are trying out different methods already (thinking of Tiree and Coll). But to my mind infrastructure sharing is a fast, inexpensive, essential first-step, before we embark on other more elaborate and costly solutions to get the levels of coverage we expect and need. I believe it will give us a major part of the solution, as long as the mobile network operators get serious about infrastructure sharing. As they should, because it’s faster and cheaper than many of the alternatives they’re considering.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

      Mary Galbraith October 9, 2014 9:34 pm Reply
  • Mary Galbraith is just trying to get her name in the public eye.
    She wrote a letter to the Royal Bank complaining about the RBS closing the Port Ellen sub office in November 2014 despite RBS having a mobile bank based on Islay and the RBS closing branches in the cities in Scotland.
    Welcome to the real world Mary.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 25

    Treble T October 9, 2014 8:39 pm Reply
    • The letter I sent to RBS was not about the closure itself, but rather their failure to confirm when, or even whether, the mobile bank would visit Port Ellen. I did so on the basis of feedback I’d received from customers, and also following discussions with local RBS employees. This was reported correctly in the Ileach.

      I think you’d have a valid complaint, Treble T, if the people who put themselves forward for public service made no attempt to respond to the problems raised by local people. Or were unable to demonstrate how they’d tackle the issues we all face.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 24 Thumb down 6

      Mary Galbraith October 9, 2014 9:36 pm Reply
      • Mary Galbraith.
        I would have thought that it was patently obvious that the RBS mobile bank which is permanently based on Islay would visit Port Ellen after the branch closes in November 2014.
        The RBS mobile bank current serves the Rhinns area of Islay on a Monday and travels to Jura on a Wednesday.
        Therefore it is available to visit Port Ellen on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday if required.
        For the record I do not work for RBS but I have worked full time on a mobile bank in another part of Scotland.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 8

        Treble T October 10, 2014 9:28 pm Reply
    • Her intervention has paid dividends TTT but as it’s early stages of a venture I can’t make details known yet. She certainly is in the “Real world”.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

      James Walsh October 9, 2014 9:37 pm Reply
  • “TETRA/Airwave might well be praised for bringing the emergency services clear speech that cannot be listened into by criminals, and for sending text messages. Undoubtedly it has brilliant features. Asbestos has good features too and so have controlled drugs – in the right place! What we are saying is that the technology to deliver those features is not safe, and other, safer, systems could deliver exactly the same”. Nothing more needs to be added.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 3 Thumb down 15

    Fiona mac October 9, 2014 9:13 pm Reply
    • This proposal is not about using TETRA technology, Fiona. Not in any way, shape or form.

      It’s about using a small patch of land or renting a space on a mast for independent transmission equipment. Equipment owned and operated by the usual mobile phone companies. This is something that happens already, but not nearly enough, hence the poor coverage in many parts of Argyll & Bute.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

      Mary Galbraith October 9, 2014 9:38 pm Reply
    • There were lots of much cheaper ways that the emergency services could have been given secure comms, many services had secure comms long before AIRWAVE. It was able to do many of things promised of it – remember the rubbish of every plod having a camera on his uniform linked through AIRWAVE. Most of their data communications tend to use other data networks which is a good thing because it gives more resilience and AIRWAVE could not handle that amount of traffic.

      I remember talking to some of the police radio techs before AIRWAVE started to take over, they said they could have upgraded their network for a fraction of the cost of AIRWAVE and of course the fire brigades fought hard against having it imposed on them but were over-ruled.

      The previous emergency networks could mainly survive for a couple of weeks in the event of a long loss of mains power – not unknown in the Highlands. AIRWAVE appears to have very limited resilience in the event of mains loss.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

      Lundavra October 10, 2014 12:25 am Reply
  • If I’ve read this right, Mary isn’t talking about USING the Airwave Tetra system, which IS dedicated to emergency services, public utilities etc. She’s talking about mobile ‘phone companies just sticking their wee boxes onto Airwave’s extensive INFRASTRUCTURE – masts, base stations etc.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 21 Thumb down 4

    ClootieCumpling October 9, 2014 9:38 pm Reply
    • Exactly Clootie!

      You explained that perfectly 🙂

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 4

      Mary Galbraith October 9, 2014 9:43 pm Reply
  • Apologies if that is the case. I am somewhat surprised the big players haven’t explored this route before now. Regardless I hope your interventions are successful

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

    Fiona mac October 9, 2014 9:47 pm Reply
  • deleted as pointed out by Jade not appropriate to this subject Sokay

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

    Sokay October 9, 2014 9:50 pm Reply
    • I’m guessing you’re using a smart phone for your email and lack of service has always been an issue.

      However, let’s get another discussion on BT Mail (and preferably BT in general) going – I’m shortly going to the Ombudsman over the last six months of virtually unusable broadband speeds and BT staff failing to follow up, cancelling fault reports without consulting the complaining customer and actually lying to a customer. Any chance of getting something done about rubbish broadband in Argyll and the islands, Ms Galbraith?

      Newsie – if you want to follow this up – get in touch but after Mull Rally!!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

      Jade October 9, 2014 10:46 pm Reply
      • ! Your guessing wrong,Im using a very reliable within it’s range Toshiba Pavillion g6 with windows 8.1 and IE 11, and my wife uses an Ipad air both of which have NO problem with broadband, Enjoy the Rally
        Modified as not proper to subject Sokay

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

        Sokay October 10, 2014 11:59 am Reply
        • Deleted as no longer applicable Sokay!

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

          Sokay October 10, 2014 5:15 pm Reply
  • What is so incredible is that the mobile companies haven’t bothered enough to consider the idea for their customers. Yes it will cost them for installing their equipment, maintenance and power usage but they would appear now to have no excuse. Ms Galbraith, thank you. And if this the case all over the UK, there’d be little need to have three separate phones on different networks in the hope one of them has signal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

    Jade October 9, 2014 10:38 pm Reply
    • I might have misread the comments but I don’t think the proposal is for a shared network, it is shared sites. The mobile phone companies have been sharing sites for many year but each have their own equipment for their own network normally. I was told many years ago that the two main operators had an agreement where they could each other sites with very few complications including the microwave links connecting the sites back to the network. This just opens up another group of sites in some remoter areas.

      Because of their contract AIRWAVE built sites in some very remote areas which were completely uneconomic for normal mobile telephone companies, some were even linked by satellite which is unheard of with normal mobile telephone companies. I was once speaking to someone at one network’s Network Control about a remote site in the Highlands and was told that there were more ####### sheep in its coverage area than users – we had to turn it off briefly and he was not worried because traffic on it was extremely low.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

      Lundavra October 11, 2014 8:51 am Reply
  • I think the AIRWAVE contract ends in 2016 and there is a lot of talk about the emergency services using something embedded in the mobile phone networks.

    It could suit the mobile operators to get on a few AIRWAVE sites in areas they don’t have coverage for when they start bidding for the emergency services contract.

    I look forward to seeing the mobile operators on this site! 🙂

    AIRWAVE use plenty of other people’s sites but they did seem originally reluctant to have anyone sharing on their sites, could have been because the sites might have been funded by the government and there were complications in them making money from site sharers. Normally anyone owning a radio site is keen to get lucrative site-sharing business!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

    Lundavra October 10, 2014 12:17 am Reply
  • I have deleted and modified my posts as they related to BT-Mail not mobile coverage. Look forward to thread on BT-Mail as suggested by Jade.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

    Sokay October 10, 2014 9:34 pm Reply
  • You may (or not) be surprised to hear that this is already happens and is indeed fairly common practice.

    I can see from where I’m sitting a mast which has Airwave, O2, Vodafone and Orange(EE) on it.

    I visit many communication sites over the course of a year for work and its often the other way round – Airwave using sites owned by the mobile phone companies.

    Why this sharing doesn’t take place in Argyll is I suspect due to normal commercial issues – the mobile phone companies want to make money and even sharing an existing mast will still cost them a fair bit.

    There are already a good number of radio sites in Argyll with both Airwave and mobile operators on the mast – What you do need is more and an upgrade to 3G/4G which is currently lacking in many places (Including here in the central belt)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    cros October 11, 2014 8:50 pm Reply
  • Just read about this EE experiment in Cumbria. Seems to be very early stages, but this might help Argyll if they can make it work.
    (Quite hard to read – lots of acronyms….)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    IslandDweller December 4, 2014 9:22 am Reply
  • I hardly ever comment on these articles, but I thought this on deserved a thumb up

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Eli Harrison June 14, 2015 10:34 am Reply

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