MINISTERS have come under fresh pressure to improve Scotland's digital connectivity after a new report found the nation is still lagging behind most of the rest of the UK in accessing 4G mobile phone signals.

The study found that mobile users north of the border can access a 4G connection 50.4% of the time, placing Scotland eighth out of 12 regions across the UK.

London topped the table, with mobile users able to access a signal 69.7% of the time.

The report examined connectivity between June 1 and August 31, after the Scottish Government announced a plan with with network providers to improve mobile coverage across Scotland and maximise investment in 4G technology - currently the fastest mobile internet connection in the UK.

The Herald:

The study's findings were treated with disdain by Scottish Labour's connectivity spokesman Rhoda Grant, who said: "It is simply unacceptable that Scotland lags behind the rest of the UK for 4G access."

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The Highlands and Island MSP added: "We need mobile phone providers to share masts to provide better coverage and to look at sharing resources to ensure good coverage for all their customers.

The Herald:

"Both the Tory and SNP governments should be doing much more to promote accessibility. We cannot afford a growing digital divide in Scotland."

The study found that Scotland was placed eighth for 4G download speeds, with average speeds of 21.1mbps.

In Northern Ireland, the best-performing region, the average download speed is 23.3mbps.

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The report was compiled by consumer organisation Which? and mobile coverage experts OpenSignal using 500 million tests conducted by more than 28,000 smartphone users.

The Herald:

Examining the performance of four major mobile providers in Scotland, it found EE, O2 and Vodafone provide similar connection levels of between around 55 and 56% while customers of Three were able to access 4G signal on average 33.52% of the time.

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Alex Neill, of Which?, said: "This latest research confirms that Scotland is lagging behind London when it comes to getting 4G signal.

"It's clear mobile providers must do much more to improve their networks if they are to provide greater access to their customers."

The Herald:

Marc Allera, chief executive of EE said the report highlights that "more needs to be done" but felt that EE's 4G network provides "unrivalled coverage".

He said in September, EE was named number one overall network in Scotland by another independent testing company RootMetrics, "with a clean sweep across reliability, speed, data, calls and texts".

On June 12, the Scottish Government said a plan to increase and improve mobile coverage in Scotland had been agreed with mobile operators in a move that attempted to increase commercial investment in 4G mobile in Scotland.

While primary responsibility over mobile coverage lies with the UK government, the Scottish government said it had used its own powers to "take forward a series of actions, with tangible steps alongside public sector partners to support its ambition".

The Herald:

These ranged from interventions such as business rates relief for operators through to more direct interventions, such as investing in the construction of new or enhanced infrastructure.

The proposals were welcomed by the major mobile operators, who said it would help overcome some of the challenges of extending networks into the most remote rural areas.

A report published two years ago concluded that Scotland had the worst mobile coverage in the UK on average, with more than a quarter of the country lacking adequate coverage.

NFU Scotland has been lobbying the government for a number of years to ensure all regions have adequate coverage.

A Three spokesman said: "We are continuing to roll out our 4G SuperVoice service in Scotland which will improve voice and data coverage for Scottish consumers."

Vodafone said that with a £2 billion investment in their network and services since 2014, and an equivalent amount expected over the next three yeras, their customers across the country were experiencing a "significantly improving and stronger network every day".

The Scottish Government said that they agree mobile operators need to do more to expand 4G coverage which is why they are working closely with them to achieve that.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Despite mobile connectivity being a reserved issue, we are not waiting for the UK Government but getting on with addressing this key issue ourselves.

“This year, we worked with mobile providers to produce the only Mobile Action Plan in the UK. 

"The plan contains a range of actions aimed at reducing the costs of rolling out mobile infrastructure. These include the trialling of business rates relief on new masts in non-commercial areas and we are also currently consulting on changing permitted development rights."