Farming News - O2, Three and Vodafone agree new deal to enhance rural coverage

O2, Three and Vodafone agree new deal to enhance rural coverage

29 Jan 2021
Frontdesk / Finance

O2, Three and Vodafone will partner to build and share 222 new mobile masts to boost rural coverage across the United Kingdom and deliver the first stage of the Shared Rural Network (SRN).

This programme of investment will increase coverage in each of the UK nations. 124 new sites will be built in Scotland, 33 in Wales, 11 in Northern Ireland, and 54 in England, with each operator leading on 74 of the new sites.

The construction of the new masts will commence in 2021 and is scheduled to be completed by 2024 in line with the agreement reached with the UK Government and Ofcom.

The three mobile operators will now engage with local stakeholders and other key parties to ensure a timely and efficient roll out that unlocks the benefits of 4G for these rural communities offering customers in very remote areas increased choice and fuller value from their contracts where they live, work or travel.

The exact number and location of masts will be subject to finding suitable sites, obtaining power supply and backhaul and securing the necessary permissions through the planning system.

The new investment as part of the programme, will extend the proportion of UK landmass where all mobile networks provide 4G services from 67% to 84%, and virtually eliminate Partial Not Spots (PNSs) – areas where at least one, but not all four of the UK’s mobile networks provide 4G coverage.

In addition to this privately funded SRN investment, the Government will also spend over £500m to go even further to eliminate areas where there is no 4G coverage from any operator. This will result in every mobile operator reaching 90% of UK landmass, with a combined coverage of 95%.

In Northern Ireland the SRN will see 4G coverage rise to at least 85% of landmass from 75%; in Scotland it will rise to at least 74% from 42%; in England it will rise from 81% to 90%; and in Wales it will rise to at least 80% from 58%.

 CLA President Mark Bridgeman said:

“News that mobile operators will deliver the first stage of the Shared Rural Network will enhance the lives of millions of people living in the countryside and will provide a much-needed boost to rural productivity, which is 16% below the national average.

“Only 66% of rural areas currently have good access to 4G coverage, with only a 1% improvement recorded last year. This agreement will hopefully speed up the process of increased coverage being rolled-out - and the improvement will help unlock investment in the rural economy.

“Better coverage could also see more businesses start-up or re-locate to the countryside, creating new jobs as the country emerges from the Covid-19 crisis. But that will only happen if the proposed timescales are fulfilled.”

  • The news comes as the government launches a consultation on whether reforms to the Electronic Communications Code are needed to ensure that the deployment, upgrading and sharing of digital infrastructure, such as phone masts, can happen as quickly and efficiently as possible.