VMO2 turns to Starlink satellites to boost rural connectivity

VMO2 is using Starlink’s Low Earth Orbit satellites to provide mobile backhaul for remote regions of the UK, which it says will accelerate its Shared Rural Network (SRN) rollout.

Andrew Wooden

April 16, 2024

2 Min Read

The operator has already plugged in Starlink low-earth orbit satellites to provide mobile backhaul to sites in the Scottish Highlands, which it says are extremely difficult or impossible to connect using standard measures, such as fibre or microwave connections.

The rollout follows a period of testing and a recent trial in northern Scotland that it says ‘proved how satellites can be used to carry mobile traffic to and from mobile masts in remote locations.’

This is being framed as a measure to help it make progress on its commitments to the Shared Rural Network – a project to improve mobile coverage in rural and remote areas across the UK with Ofcom targets for the operators. The UK government set the goal of extending 4G coverage to 95% of the UK landmass by 2025, providing £500 million of public money to do so, while UK operators provide another £532 million.

In this pursuit of these targets, VMO2 has also recently used helicopters to deploy masts and knock out not-spots in remote areas.

“We’re leaving no stone unturned when it comes to improving rural connectivity and are continuously looking for new ways to boost signal in remote areas,” said Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Media O2. “Our commitment to delivering on our part of the Shared Rural Network programme has seen us turn first to helicopters and now to satellites to connect some of the most difficult and remote parts of the country. By constantly finding new ways to deliver for our customers, we are bringing reliable mobile coverage to rural communities faster and helping to close the UK’s digital divide.”

The operator is also apparently exploring other ways satellite connectivity can be employed, such as providing coverage for emergency services and improved mobile connectivity at ‘special events.’

Satellites have become an increasingly common lever to pull when it comes top providing connectivity, and hooking up areas where it’s tough to stick terrestrial equipment down remains the most obvious use for them.

The reason more firms are hurling satellites into the air and other firms like VMO2 are turning to them to solve business challenges is in no small part because its just got much cheaper in recent years to do so – and may believe they will play a larger part in how future networks are built. Read more about the history and trajectory of the sector in our deep-dive The rise of satellites in telecoms.

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins Telecoms.com on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

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