A remote Scottish island community has been connected to 4G services after a helicopter swept in to install a mobile phone mast.

Residents of Islay will be taken to new connectivity heights thanks to the whirlwind installation carried out by engineers from Virgin Media O2.

The work was carried out as part of a UK-wide £1 billion Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme, with the company building six new partial not-spot masts on the island.

Jenni Minto, MSP for Argyll and Bute, and councillor Liz McCabe, policy lead for islands and business development at Argyll and Bute Council, welcomed the investment during a site visit.

The MP and councillor were updated on Virgin Media O2’s progress in building more than 60 sites in Argyll and Bute as part of SRN.

Minto said: “I welcome Virgin Media O2’s investment in Argyll and Bute that will help ensure that my constituents have access to reliable mobile connectivity. For too long, many rural areas like this one have been at a disadvantage when it comes to connectivity.

“It is fantastic to see how the company is bringing mobile coverage to the beautiful island of Islay, which will have a positive impact for the businesses, residents, and visitors to the area. I believe that Virgin Media O2 is really setting an example of how to properly invest in rural networks.”

McCabe said: “It is fantastic to see the investment that is being made by Virgin Media O2, bringing much needed rural mobile connectivity to Argyll and Bute as part of the Shared Rural Network programme. 

“Argyll and Bute has languished behind other areas due to our geography and logistical challenges, including 22 inhabited islands. However, over the last number of years significant investment has been made and we have seen major coverage improvements. The Shared Rural Network programme will enhance this further with multiple operator coverage improvements to many parts of our remote rural areas.”

The region is set to benefit from a complete transformation in mobile connectivity which will tackle countless not-spots and areas of patchy signal. 

Islay is the latest part of Argyll and Bute to receive a mobile boost and represents Virgin Media O2’s first new island mast as part of the upgrade programme.

The upgrades will provide residents, as well as businesses and visitors to the area, 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.

Currently, just 60% of Argyll and Bute benefits from 4G coverage from all four mobile network operators – Virgin Media O2, Vodafone, EE and Three. This will increase by 25% after all Shared Rural Network upgrades have been delivered.

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. At Virgin Media O2, we are committed to playing our part in bringing reliable 4G coverage to rural locations all over Britain to help 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 the Argyll and Bute area, where we are working to upgrade more than 60 sites as part of our commitment to the Shared Rural Network programme.”

The company recently announced it had reached a landmark 50th Shared Rural Network site, bringing 4G coverage to an area approximately the size of Lanarkshire. It has also secured planning consent for works at a further 100 sites, with work due to start soon.

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.