Farming News - Patchy internet coverage in rural areas to become 'a thing of the past'

Patchy internet coverage in rural areas to become 'a thing of the past'

10 Mar 2020
Frontdesk / Finance

The UK's four largest mobile networks have agreed on a £1 billion deal with the government to make patchy internet coverage in rural areas 'a thing of the past'. 

The Shared Rural Network (SRN) will see EE, O2, Three and Vodafone work together to bring 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2025.

As part of 'legally binding' contracts, the networks will invest in new and existing phone masts, overseen by a shared company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited.

The deal is set to bring guaranteed coverage to 280,000 premises and 9,942 miles (16,000km) of roads, with the biggest beneficiaries set to be Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Other benefits will include better coverage on 27,962 miles (45,000km) of roads and indoor signals for around 1.2 million businesses and homes.

Currently, around 9 per cent of the UK's landmass does not have decent 4G outdoor mobile coverage from any operator, according to industry regulator Ofcom.

Vodafone UK boss Nick Jeffery said: 'A rural postcode should not be a barrier to receiving a decent mobile signal. 

'Together, we have created a programme that is unmatched anywhere in the world. 

'It will mean an end to mobile "not spots" for people in the more remote areas, whether they are at home, at work or on the move. 

'We will now get on with the job of delivering it.'

Ofcom revealed in its Connected Nations 2019 report that just 66 per cent of the UK has 4G coverage from all four operators.

It estimates that 53,000 premises cannot access either a decent fixed broadband service or get good 4G coverage indoors from any operator. 

 

'For too many people in the countryside a bad phone signal is a daily frustration,' said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

'So we're delivering on the Prime Minister's 100-day promise to get a £1 billion landmark deal signed with industry to end poor and patchy mobile rural coverage. 

'This is an important milestone to level up the country, improve people's lives and increase prosperity across the length and breadth of our United Kingdom.' 

The networks will each invest £532 million as part of the deal, with the aim of closing almost all partial not spots – areas where there is currently coverage from some but not all of the network operators. 

The scheme will lead to increases in coverage in some areas by more than a third, the government said, with the biggest improvements in rural parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales that only have partial 4G coverage or none at all. 

The deal means network combined coverage will reach 95 per cent of the UK's landmass in just over five years' time. 

'We welcome this agreement, which will make a real difference to all mobile customers right across the UK,' said a spokesman for industry regulator Ofcom. 

'We are making the coverage commitments legally binding by including them in operators' licences. 

'We'll also monitor and report on companies' progress in bringing better coverage to people and businesses.' 

Ben Roome, CEO of Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited, said the initiative will 'transform mobile coverage across the UK' and give a 'real boost' to rural businesses and communities. 

Philip Jansen, chief executive of the BT Group, which owns EE, said the Shared Rural Network is 'something we can all be proud of', while Three chief executive Dave Dyson described it as a 'game-changer for the country'. 

'The collaboration between the industry, government and Ofcom should be seen as a leading example of how to deliver infrastructure investment and we look forward to now rolling the Shared Rural Network out as quickly as possible,' O2 boss Mark Evans said.