The UK government has delivered a progress update on the effort to deliver increased 4G mobile connectivity in rural not-spot locations to bridge the so called ‘digital divide.’

The government announced that people mostly in rural Scotland, followed by Wales and the North East of England are benefitting from the increased 4G coverage.

It published new maps and figures so people can see the progress in their communities. Specifically, the government said that the Scottish Highlands and Islands, Mid and West Wales and the North East of England will see the largest increases in 4G signals.

Scotland benefits

The government said that Scotland will benefit the most of the four home nations with coverage from all four MNOs to be delivered to three quarters (74 percent) of Scotland’s landmass by the end of the programme.

This is an increase of two thirds and up from 44 percent currently.

Wales will see the next highest 4G coverage increase – with coverage from all four operators increasing by more than one third, from 60 percent to 80 percent.

Northern Ireland meanwhile will see 4G from all four MNOs rise to 85 percent of its landmass, up from 79 percent in 2020.

The North East of England will see total 4G coverage jump from 68 percent to 86 percent.

“We’re putting connecting people across the UK at the heart of our plan to build back better, through huge uplifts to mobile coverage in rural areas and the rapid rollout of gigabit broadband,” said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

“Today’s announcements will improve the lives of millions of people in rural parts of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland, giving them the connections they need to work, access services and keep in touch – both at home and on the go,” said Dowden.

Shared Rural Network

In October 2019 the British Government and the big four mobile operators in the UK had pledged £1 billion to create a ‘Shared Rural Network’, (SRN).

This included £500m from taxpayers, and £530m from the operators.

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”.

Then in March 2020 BT, Vodafone, O2 and Three UK reached an agreement to share network infrastructure in order to eliminate mobile not-spots in mostly rural locations.

EE momentum

But EE is pointing to its “momentum” in the SRN scheme, and is confident it is significantly ahead of other UK operators in fulfilling its 4G upgrade commitments to the SRN.

In February this year, EE had revealed 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 in February 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.

That meant that a total of 579 areas would benefit from extended EE 4G coverage by the end of 2021.

And this week EE has revealed in a blog post that a further 224 areas are now benefitting from extended EE 4G coverage and that all sites have been made available for other operators to share as part of the SRN.

In total, since the SRN deal was signed in March 2020, EE has upgraded 334 areas.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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