After months of wrangling, the UK government, regulator Ofcom and mobile operators have agreed terms for a “world-first” Shared Rural Network.
The £1 billion agreement will be signed today by ministers and operators, with the monies invested jointly by the operators matched by the government.
Hamish MacLeod, Director at Mobile UK, the trade association of the four UK mobile operators – EE, O2, Three, Vodafone – explained, “The Shared Rural Network partnership between the mobile operators and the government is unprecedented in both its scope and its ambition”.
He added, “The new deal means 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 only 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: hard-to-reach areas where there is currently no coverage from any operator. This will provide new digital infrastructure in total not spot areas not commercially viable for the operators.
“The legally binding coverage commitments will be enforced by [regulator] Ofcom which will have the power to issue fines up to 10% of an operator’s gross revenue if they fail to meet their targets.”
According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the greatest improvements to networks will be in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with network coverage expanding by more than a third in some places.
Under the terms of the deal, through their collective efforts and assets, each operator will bring 4G coverage to at least 90% of the UK landmass and jointly up to 95% of it by the end of 2025
The UK government is hailing it as a “world-first deal” that will ultimately provide good 4G coverage in rural areas irrespective of which network provider people use.
The investment by EE, O2, Three and Vodafone in the network of new and existing phone masts will be overseen by a jointly owned company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited.
It will provide guaranteed coverage to 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads.
The DCMS said in a statement, “We can also expect some further indirect improvements over time, including a boost to ‘in car’ coverage on around 45,000 km of road and better indoor coverage in around 1.2m business premises and homes”.
The government has also pledged £5 billion to subsidise the roll out of gigabit capable broadband in the harder-to-reach areas of the country.
Philip Jasen, Chief Executive, BT Group, said, “The Shared Rural Network is something we can all be proud of.”
Mark Evans, CEO of O2, said, “I’m proud of the work we’ve done to secure the Shared Rural Network agreement, ensuring customers living in rural areas will be able to get the fast and reliable coverage they need and deserve. The collaboration between the industry, government and Ofcom should be seen as a leading example of how to deliver infrastructure investment and we look forward to now rolling the Shared Rural Network out as quickly as possible.”
Dave Dyson, the outgoing CEO at Three UK, said, “The Shared Rural Network is a game-changer for the country with coverage from each of the four operators expanding to at least 90% of the UK’s geography.”