Government Wants National Roaming To Solve Rural Blackspots

windmill suffolk country rural © Douglas Freer shutterstock

Government considering plan to force mobile operators to open up their networks in areas of poor signal

The government could force mobile operators to share their networks in rural areas with poor coverage as part of a ‘national roaming’ scheme in the UK.

According to reports, new culture secretary Sajid Javid wants mobile users to be able to switch to a competing network if their own is not available, just like they would be able to if they were using their phone abroad.

It has been suggested that the government could be able to force the issue using existing legislation, but others have said such a move would discourage operators from investing in new masts to improve coverage, meaning that it might result in worse coverage in the long term.

National roaming plan

scotland castle eilean donan © Michal Durinik Shutterstock

National roaming is common in countries such as the USA and India where there are a number of regional operators or gaps in coverage in national networks. However given that the European Union (EU) is working towards abolishing roaming charges across the continent on the basis it will improve the continent’s economy, the same argument could be used domestically in the UK.

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.

“The Government has made clear it wants to ensure the UK has world-class mobile phone coverage as part of our investment in infrastructure for the long term economic plan,” a spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and sport (DCMS) told TechWeekEurope. “We are investing up to £150 million to improve mobile coverage in areas where there is currently no coverage from any of the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs).

“Of course we want to look at what more can be done in areas with poor coverage.”

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