News | Published October 26 2019

UK’s biggest mobile companies to collaborate on ending non-coverage in rural shadow zones

The four leading mobile phone companies in the UK have outlined a £1 billion plan with the government to target rural areas with poor network coverage and make the UK “match-fit for the digital revolution”.

EE, O2, Three and Vodafone are the four providers within the deal and have committed to providing 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by 2025, doing away with so-called “not-spots” of coverage which currently impact one third of the country.

Felicity Burch, director of digital and innovation at the Confederation of British Industry, called the move a “crucial step” in “making the UK match-fit for the digital revolution”, adding that it would “unleash investment and boost productivity”.

The deal for this new Shared Rural Network is not yet finalised but could be confirmed in early 2020.

The four mobile giants will contribute a total of £530 million into the network’s provision, with the government set to add a further £500 million upon completion of the deal.

Vodafone’s chief technology officer, Scott Petty, did not outline how the heavy investment would be divided between the four providers, but said that collaboration between competitors was the best way to take the UK up Europe’s network provision league tables as well as reducing spending on capital infrastructure and increasing competition.

Petty said: “As an industry we really believe this is the most effective way to get the UK from the bottom end of the coverage tables in Europe to the top end.

"We saw an opportunity to work together as an industry to close the digital divide and solve the not-spot problem we have across the UK.”

Under the proposals, a further 280,000 homes and businesses will benefit from increased mobile phone coverage.

Talks had been ongoing for several years between the government and the providers as to how the UK’s network coverage could be improved.

The firms poured cold water on a government threat to force them to allow customers to roam onto each other’s networks in non-coverage zones, saying that it would discourage new investment.

Digital secretary Nicky Morgan said: "Brokering an agreement for mast sharing between networks alongside new investment in mobile infrastructure will mean people get good 4G signal no matter where they are or which provider they're with.

"But it is not yet a done deal and I want to see industry move quickly so we can reach a final agreement early next year.”

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
October 26 2019

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