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£1bn plan will see mobile operators share infrastructure to reach 95 per cent 4G coverage

Image credit: Dreamstime

The UK’s four main mobile network providers have teamed up with the Government in a £1bn plan to banish so-called “4G not-spots” in areas of poor network coverage in rural areas.

While networks are already launching 5G coverage in urban areas, the current plan is still to ensure 95 per cent 4G coverage across the UK by 2025.

The new initiative will see operators EE, O2, Three and Vodafone share their phone mast infrastructure in certain areas to provide additional coverage to 280,000 homes and businesses and 10,000 miles of roads.

Earlier this month, uSwitch.com expressed concern about the low availability of 4G in rural areas, while only 28 per cent of the country is expected to have 5G by the end of 2019.

The newly proposed Shared Rural Network would see £530m invested in a network of new and existing phone masts that all networks would share, to be matched by £500m investment from government.

It is hoped that better 4G connectivity will make flexible working easier, boost regional economic growth and close the digital divide.

Digital secretary Nicky Morgan said: “We are determined to make sure no part of the country is left behind when it comes to mobile connectivity. We are closing in on a deal with the mobile network operators so those living in rural areas will be able to get the fast and reliable mobile coverage they need and deserve.

“Brokering an agreement for mast sharing between networks alongside new investment in mobile infrastructure will mean people get good 4G signal no matter where they are or which provider they’re with.

“It is not yet a done deal and I want to see industry move quickly so we can reach a final agreement early next year.”

Under the proposal, the four operators will share existing masts and infrastructure in areas where there is currently only coverage from at least one but not all operators.

Government-owned mobile infrastructure built as part of the delayed Emergency Services Network will also be made available to all four operators when it is finally completed, taking full advantage of government assets.

This is expected to contribute to the coverage target by delivering up to an additional 2 per cent of geographic coverage per operator, in some of the most remote rural locations.

Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK, said: “There is no other scheme like this in the world. It will spell an end to annoying mobile ‘not spots’ for hundreds of thousands of people living, working and travelling in the more remote parts of the UK.”

Mark Evans, CEO of Telefonica UK (O2), said: “These proposals represent a step-change in the way that mobile coverage is delivered. They are the most ambitious solution, of all proposals on the table and will ensure that customers across all corners of the UK can access a good connection.”

Rob Baillie, mobile comms experts at Comparemymobile.com said it was “galling” that so many Britons in rural areas can still barely get a 3G or 4G service. “For that reason, it’s great news that the UK’s big-four networks and the government have reached agreement on the thorny issue of sharing masts,” he said.

“However, it’s worth noting that the plan to have 95 per cent of the UK able to access good 4G coverage is still five years out, which is quite a long time for those currently struggling to get a signal.

“Banishing ‘not-spots’ should be at the top of the agenda for all phone networks. Bringing cutting-edge connectivity to towns and cities is all well and good, but it’s just as important that networks ensure basic 4G service provision for areas where 5G won’t arrive for years and years to come.”

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