O2, Three and Vodafone agree new deal to enhance rural coverage
- Mobile operators to build and share 222 mobile masts to boost 4G rural coverage.
- All four nations of the United Kingdom set to benefit from new investment to eliminate Partial Not Spots.
- This programme will deliver the first stage of the £1bn Shared Rural Network.
O2, Three and Vodafone will partner to build and share 222 new mobile masts to 4G boost rural coverage across the United Kingdom and deliver the first stage of the Shared Rural Network (SRN).
This programme of investment will increase shared rural network coverage in each of the UK nations. 124 new sites will be built in Scotland, 33 in Wales, 11 in Northern Ireland, and 54 in England, with each operator leading on 74 of the new sites.
The construction of the new masts will commence in 2021 and is scheduled to be completed by 2024 in line with the agreement reached with the UK Government and Ofcom.
The three mobile operators will now engage with local stakeholders and other key parties to ensure a timely and efficient roll out that unlocks the benefits of 4G rural coverage for these communities through a shared rural network. They offer customers in very remote areas increased choice and fuller value from their contracts where they live, work or travel.
The exact number and location of masts will be subject to finding suitable sites, obtaining power supply and backhaul and securing the necessary permissions through the planning system.
The new investment as part of the programme, will extend the proportion of UK landmass where all mobile networks provide 4G services from 67% to 84%, and virtually eliminate Partial Not Spots (PNSs) – areas where at least one, but not all four of the UK’s mobile networks provide 4G rural coverage enhancing 5G accessibility.
In addition to this privately funded SRN investment, the Government will also spend over £500m to go even further to eliminate areas where there is no 4G coverage from any operator. This will result in every mobile operator reaching 90% of UK landmass, with a combined shared rural network coverage of 95%.
In Northern Ireland the SRN will see 4G rural coverage rise to at least 85% of landmass from 75%; in Scotland it will rise to at least 74% from 42%; in England it will rise from 81% to 90%; and in Wales it will rise to at least 80% from 58%.
Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said:
“I’m delighted to see major progress being made to banish ‘not spots’ of poor or patchy mobile coverage. This new infrastructure will unlock the potential of rural communities in all four nations and offer greater choice of fast and reliable 4G services.
“As part of this new Shared Rural Network the government is also investing half a billion pounds on new masts in areas without any signal at all meaning no one is left behind.”
Mark Evans, CEO of O2, said:
“The Shared Rural Network is a new and more collaborative way of delivering greater investment in infrastructure to improve mobile digital connectivity – a high impact enabler of economic growth. I am delighted that O2 is working in partnership with other mobile operators to deliver the Shared Rural Network, which will support individuals, businesses and communities across rural Britain.”
Robert Finnegan, CEO of Three UK, said:
“Mobile connectivity is absolutely critical for communities around the UK helping to support local economies and keeping people connected with their friends and family. The Shared Rural Network will have a transformative effect on coverage across the UK and it is great to be working with the rest of the industry to achieve this.”
Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK, said:
“We know connectivity is vital and the only way to fill the holes in the UK’s mobile coverage is to work together. Our unique collaboration with O2 and Three will deliver 222 new sites in parts of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that need better connectivity. Delivering the Shared Rural Network will make a huge difference to communities across the UK.”
The news comes as the government launches a consultation on whether reforms to the Electronic Communications Code are needed to ensure that the deployment, upgrading and sharing of digital infrastructure such as phone masts can happen as quickly and efficiently as possible.