Mobile Operators To Invest £5bn To Improve Rural Coverage

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Government abandons controversial national roaming plans in favour of a new legally binding agreement by mobile operators

The government has abandoned plans for a controversial ‘national roaming’ network in favour of a voluntary agreement with all four major UK mobile operators to improve coverage in rural areas.

EE, O2, Three and Vodafone all opposed the national roaming proposals arguing they would be ineffective and remove the incentive for operators to improve their networks. All four have now entered into a legally binding pledge to invest a combined £5 billion to tackle the issue of poor signal.

The agreement should halve the number of ‘partial’ not-spots that are covered by just one or two operators and reduce total notspots by two thirds. Each operator will be required to offer at least voice and text services to 90 percent of the UK’s land mass while full coverage will increase from 69 percent to 85 percent by 2017.

Rural coverage boost

Ofcom UK MapNo government funding will be handed out, but operators will have access to a number of public buildings to deploy masts and the networks’ commitment will be noted when Ofcom reviews the cost of spectrum licences.

The new investment complements the existing £150 million Mobile Infrastructure Project and the government claims that the UK will have some of the best mobile coverage of any major European country when the project is completed.

“I am pleased to have secured a legally binding deal with the four mobile networks. Too many parts of the UK regularly suffer from poor mobile coverage leaving them unable to make calls or send texts,” said Culture Secretary Sajid Javid. “Government and businesses have been clear about the importance of mobile connectivity, and improved coverage, so this legally binding agreement will give the UK the world-class mobile phone coverage it needs and deserves. The £5bn investment from the mobile networks in the UK’s infrastructure will help drive this Government’s long-term economic plan.”

Operator support

The idea of a national roaming network emerged earlier this year and despite widespread opposition from the mobile industry, the plan was one of a number of legislative options considered. The government has also announced plans to reform the “ouidated and ineffective” Electronic Communications Code to make it easier for the communications sector to rollout new services.

All four mobile operators have added their support to the new voluntary agreement and their progress will be monitored regularly by Ofcom. An unspecified ‘interim’ target must be met by 2016.

“We support the Government’s objective of delivering better coverage to rural areas including partial not spots,” said Vodafone. “It is a great result for UK consumers and businesses and it will make the UK a leader across Europe in terms of the reach of mobile coverage.”

“Today’s agreement reflects the strength of our network today, our plans for the future and our commitment to bring its benefits to more people and more places than ever before,” claimed Three CEO Dave Dyson.

“A partnership between government and the mobile operators is required to maximise coverage across the UK, so this agreement is a good outcome for our customers,” added O2 COO Derek McManus. “It will support investment in our network, while ensuring that strong competition remains between the different networks.”

“EE is focused on bringing the best voice and data service to its customers across the UK, and only last week announced 1,500 unconnected villages will soon benefit from EE coverage,” said EE CEO Olaf Swantee. “This agreement ensures that our customers are able to stay connected in even more places up and down the country.”

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