Government To ‘Force’ Mobile Operators To Share Networks

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.

Follow on: Google +

The government will propose that mobile operators share infrastructure in rural areas as part of ‘national roaming’ plans

The Government is to propose legislation requiring mobile operators to let their customers access rivals’ networks in areas with poor reception as part of a “national roaming” network.

According to the Sunday Times, culture secretary Sajid Javid has grown frustrated with EE, O2, Vodafone and Three’s inability to come up with a voluntary solution and now plans to force the issue with proposals later this week.

Javid has been interested in such a plan since June, apparently dismayed that foreign visitors to the UK, able to roam on whatever network they wished, could receive a better service than residents.

UK National Roaming

windmill suffolk country rural © Douglas Freer shutterstockSome parts of the country are served by just one or two networks, while in some areas there is no signal at all. Under national roaming plans, those living in rural ‘notspots’ will be able to access any operator’s network if is range. It is believed that up to one million people could benefit.

The government wrote to all four major operators earlier this year requesting cooperation, but all have resisted such proposals arguing it penalises those who have built up their network infrastructure and removes any incentive to invest in the future.

Sources told the Sunday newspaper that the government had given the companies “numerous” opportunities to participate and that its hand had now been forced.

The government has already made a number of moves to improve rural mobile coverage. As part of O2’s license for the 800MHz spectrum it won in last year’s 4G auction, Ofcom requires the operator to provide a mobile broadband service to 98 percent of the UK population and at least 95 percent of the population of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

It has also awarded communications infrastructure provider Arqiva a £150 million contract to improve mobile services in rural areas as part of the Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP). This mirrors initiatives to improve fixed line broadband such as the £530 million Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project and a new £250 million fund to extend coverage using alternative technologies such as wireless and satellite.

What do you know about UK mobile operators? Find out with our quiz!