Shared Rural Network Signed

UK mobile network operators sign £1bn deal to boost rural mobile coverage

£1bn deal to expand rural mobile network coverage will be signed by all four major mobile network operators

Ministers and heads of the four major UK mobile network operators are signing a £1 billion deal to make poor and patchy rural phone coverage a thing of the past. EE, O2, Three and Vodafone are to work together to deliver “strong 4G” across areas of the UK that lack sufficient infrastructure. The operators will work together by sharing existing infrastructure and expanding in areas with poor coverage.

The Shared Rural Network aims to extend 4G coverage to 95% of the UK, no matter which network customers use, by 2025, three years later than first planned. The deal involves sharing network equipment but almost collapsed last month in a row between operators

According to Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2018 report, 65 per cent of the UK landmass has 4G data coverage from all four operators, but 9.3 per cent of the UK had no 4G data coverage from any operator.

The new agreement should make it easier to ramp up coverage to 90 per cent, while the burden of expanding the network to the remaining 9.3 per cent could be shared between operators. The deal means that network-combined coverage will reach 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2025. The SRN will provide guaranteed coverage to 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads. The Government also expects some further “indirect improvements over time”, including a boost to ‘in car’ coverage on around 45,000 km of road and better indoor coverage in around 1.2 million business premises and homes.

The networks will invest £532m as part of the deal, with the aim of closing almost all partial not-spots: areas which lack coverage from all operators. Taxpayers will pay half the £1bn cost, which will include new masts. EE, O2, Three and Vodafone will pay the rest.

It follows moves by the government to improve digital infrastructure by making it easier and cheaper for the private sector to deploy faster broadband to the most commercial areas of the country, new legislation to make it easier for telecoms firms to connect blocks of flats, and plans to mandate gigabit-capable connectivity in new build premises.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said:

“For too many people in the countryside a bad phone signal is a daily frustration. So today 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.”

In response to the announcement, a spokesman for industry regulator Ofcom said:

“We welcome this agreement, which will make a real difference to all mobile customers right across the UK. 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.”

Philip Jansen, chief executive of the BT Group, which owns EE, said the Shared Rural Network is “something we can all be proud of”.

“High-speed mobile connectivity is a central part of modern life whether you live and work in a city centre or in the countryside. Building out fast and reliable access to 4G across the country is a national mission and we’re playing a leading role, collaborating with government and the other mobile network operators in the UK, to make this happen. The Shared Rural Network is something we can all be proud of.

O2 boss Mark Evans commented: “

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done to secure the Shared Rural Network agreement, ensuring customers living in rural areas will be able to get the fast and reliable coverage they need and deserve. 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.” ”

Dave Dyson, CEO Three, said:

“The Shared Rural Network is a game-changer for the country with coverage from each of the four operators expanding to at least 90 per cent of the UK’s geography.”

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.”

The new deal means the four networks have committed to legally binding contracts and investing £532 million to close almost all partial not-spots: areas where there is currently only coverage from at least one but not all operators.

This investment will then be backed by more than £500 million of government funding to eliminate total not-spots: hard-to-reach areas where there is currently no coverage from any operator. This will provide new digital infrastructure in total not spot areas not commercially viable for the operators.

The legally binding coverage commitments will be enforced by comms regulator Ofcom which will have the power to issue fines up to 10 per cent of an operator’s gross revenue if they fail to meet their targets.

To ensure that these coverage targets are met, Ofcom has developed legally enforceable coverage obligations that are attached to the mobile network operators’ radio spectrum licences. These commit the operators to:

  • Each reach 88 per cent coverage of the UK by 2024;
  • Each reach 90 per cent coverage of the UK by 2026;
  • Each reach nation-specific coverage targets in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales by 2026;
  • Collectively provide additional coverage to 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads by 2026.

Together this means all four mobile network operators will deliver 95 per cent combined coverage across the whole of the UK by the end of 2025

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