Ministers and mobile-phone network operators have signed a £1 billion deal to make poor and patchy rural phone coverage a thing of the past by ensuring that rural areas of the UK will benefit from strong 4G coverage, irrespective of what network provider they use.
The Shared Rural Network (SRN) is a deal with EE, O2, Three and Vodafone investing in a network of new and existing phone masts, overseen by a jointly owned company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Ltd.
The deal will provide ‘guaranteed’ coverage to 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads.
It is also expected that further indirect improvements over time will boost ‘in car’ coverage on around 45,000km of road and provide better indoor coverage in around 1.2 million business premises and homes.
All four mobile network operators will deliver 95% combined coverage across the whole of the UK by the end of 2025.
The Government is also reported to have pledged £5 billion to subsidise the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband in the harder-to-reach areas of the country.
Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “For too many people in the countryside, a bad phone signal is a daily frustration.
"This £1 billion landmark deal is an important milestone to level up the country, improve people’s lives and increase prosperity across the length and breadth of the UK.”
Hamish MacLeod, a director at Mobile UK — the trade association for the UK’s mobile network operators (www.mobileuk.org
) — said: “Strong competition promotes industry investment in mobile coverage in urban areas, but rural areas have fewer potential customers and have not seen the level of investment needed to provide good coverage.
"The new deal means that the four networks have committed to legally binding contracts and investing £532 million to close almost all partial ‘not-spots’ — areas where there is currently coverage from at least one but not all operators.
"This investment will then be backed by more than £500 million of Government funding to eliminate total ‘not-spots’ — areas where there is currently no coverage from any operator.”
BCC director general Adam Marshall said: “This is a major win for our ‘No More Not Spots’ campaign, which has worked across the UK to identify and fix the mobile ‘not spots’ holding back businesses in so many parts of the country.
"Access to mobile voice and data services is a basic requirement of business today, and it is essential to consumers and for linking people and communities.”