Helicopters and extreme weather: how Glencoe become home to UK's highest mobile mast

Mobile connectivity has reached new heights in Scotland

High on a mountaintop overlooking the most famous glen in the Scottish Highlands stands the UK’s highest mobile phone mast.

It has just been erected on a Munro near the top of Glen Coe, at a height of 1,108 metres – or 3,635 feet – above sea level.

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It is part of the Shared Rural Network (SRN), a £1 billion joint initiative between the UK government and mobile network operators that aims to deliver reliable mobile broadband to 95 per cent of the country’s landmass by 2025.

The scheme will also address the digital divide, by improving 4G coverage in ‘not-spots’, areas where coverage is poorest or non-existent.

The new 4G mast – situated at Glencoe Mountain Resort, on the Meall a’ Bhùiridh massif – is the final installation in the first phase of SRN work by mobile network operator Virgin Media O2, which has boosted coverage in 227 partial not-spot areas across the UK.

It will provide the winter sports and outdoor recreation hub – Scotland’s oldest commercial ski centre – with reliable mobile coverage, helping improve safety and convenience for visitors.

The UK’s highest mobile communications mast has just been erected in Scotland at a height of 1,108 metres – or 3,635 feet – above sea level, on the top of the Meall a’ Bhùiridh massif in Glen CoeThe UK’s highest mobile communications mast has just been erected in Scotland at a height of 1,108 metres – or 3,635 feet – above sea level, on the top of the Meall a’ Bhùiridh massif in Glen Coe
The UK’s highest mobile communications mast has just been erected in Scotland at a height of 1,108 metres – or 3,635 feet – above sea level, on the top of the Meall a’ Bhùiridh massif in Glen Coe

Construction challenges

But constructing the structure in such a lofty and remote location was no easy task, requiring use of a helicopter.

And there were other challenges to overcome, with extreme weather conditions making delivery “exceptionally difficult”.

Glen Coe is also National Nature Reserve and home to endangered species, including golden eagles and ptarmigans, so extra care had to be taken to avoid disturbing the landscape and wildlife.

Constructing the phone mast in such a lofty and remote location was no easy task, requiring use of a helicopter. And there were other challenges to overcome, with extreme weather conditions making delivery “exceptionally difficult”Constructing the phone mast in such a lofty and remote location was no easy task, requiring use of a helicopter. And there were other challenges to overcome, with extreme weather conditions making delivery “exceptionally difficult”
Constructing the phone mast in such a lofty and remote location was no easy task, requiring use of a helicopter. And there were other challenges to overcome, with extreme weather conditions making delivery “exceptionally difficult”

The first phase of the SRN programme required each of the four mobile operators – Virgin Media O2, Vodafone, EE and Three – to build a set number of new and upgraded sites by the end of June to tackle partial not-spots.

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The upgrades provide customers with faster and more reliable mobile data and higher-quality voice calls, transforming coverage in areas that previously suffered from patchy or slow services.

Currently Scots have the poorest access to a signal.

The SRN target is to increase geographical coverage in Scotland from 44 per cent to 74 per cent, in England from 84 per cent to 90 per cent, in Wales from 60 per cent to 80 per cent and in Northern Ireland from 79 per cent to 85 per cent.

Improved connectivity

Jeanie York, chief technology officer at Virgin Media O2, said: “We are absolutely committed to bringing reliable mobile connectivity to more rural communities and have now completed the first phase of our SRN rollout.

“Our 227th site, at Glencoe, is now the highest mast in the UK and one of the most impressive to date, standing over 1km above sea level and providing connectivity to the nearby ski resort.

“This work is vital in tackling the urban-rural digital divide that exists in the UK.”

To deliver the SRN programme, mobile network operators are investing £532 million to eliminate the majority of partial not-spots – areas which receive coverage from at least one but not all operators.

Westminster will provide a further £500 million to build new masts to tackle total not-spots – hard-to-reach places where there is currently no coverage.

Virgin Media O2 will now turn to the second phase of the SRN programme, bringing 4G to areas with no existing mobile service.

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