Mobile operator EE is to expand its 4G coverage in more than 500 areas in 2021 in an effort to improve rural connectivity as part of the Shared Rural Network (SRN) scheme.
The additions of 4G connectivity will include national parks, roads, and coastal locations, the BT owned mobile operator announced.
The move is part of the SRN scheme. In October 2019 the British Government and the big four mobile operators in the UK pledged £1 billion to create a ‘Shared Rural Network’, (SRN).
The aim of the £1 billion SRN is to extend mobile services in rural areas to deliver 95 percent 4G coverage in the UK by 2024, no matter what mobile network customers use.
It comes after years of complaints about mobile coverage in rural locations.
In December 2018, Ofcom warned that while broadband and mobile services have improved in the UK, large areas – and particularly rural areas – were still “poorly served”.
In March 2020 BT, Vodafone, O2 and Three UK reached a final agreement to share network infrastructure in order to eliminate mobile not-spots in mostly rural locations.
Now EE has announced that 579 areas will benefit from extended EE 4G coverage by the end of 2021. This will include 333 locations in England, 132 in Scotland, 76 in Wales, and 38 in Northern Ireland.
EE said that 110 areas have already upgraded since SRN deal was signed in March 2020, with a further 469 to follow this year in first phase of programme.
This means that a total of 579 areas will benefit from extended EE 4G coverage by the end of 2021.
And as its part of the SRN, it means that EE’s upgraded sites have been made available for other operators to share.
EE provided this map, but precise details and locations are hard to determine.
“I’m delighted to see the great strides EE is making to boost 4G services in countryside communities as part of the Shared Rural Network agreement, which was brokered and is part funded by the government,” said Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure.
“We’re investing half a billion pounds in this landmark deal to extend mobile coverage to 95 percent of the UK and it will help us build back better from the pandemic,” said Warman.
“Reliable connectivity is important wherever you live, work or travel, and we’re committed to improving and adding coverage to even the most remote areas,” added Philip Jansen, chief executive of BT.
“The investment BT has made in rural areas to date means we already have the infrastructure in place needed to extend our 4G coverage footprint further, minimising the number of new sites we need to build,” said Jansen.
“There are many places where EE is the only provider with 4G coverage today, offering the other operators an opportunity to share our existing sites to plug gaps in their networks and improve mobile performance for everyone,” he added.
Extending and improving mobile network coverage in the UK is often a difficult and thankless task for mobile operators.
Operators commonly have to overcome a number of costly issues. These issues can include finding the appropriate power supply and fibre connections for the mobile towers or masts to tap into, and accessing the land or location itself.
But one of the biggest challenges stems from overcoming local opposition.
This was evidenced just before Christmas, when Bath and North Somerset Council’s planning committee voted six to three to refuse permission for an existing 4G mast to be upgraded to 5G.
EE and Three had wished to upgrade their 15m mast at a sports ground on the fringes of Bath, to include 5G equipment – thereby raising the height by an extra 5 metres.
Indeed, a group called Stop 5G in Bath rallied opposition to the mast.
Matters were not helped when Bath’s Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse was among those who called on the council to listen to concerns about health.