Britain’s ‘big four’ mobile networks agree £1 billion deal with the government to bring 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the country by 2025 – including rural areas blighted by ‘not spots’

  • Three, Vodafone, EE and O2 have formed a company to invest in phone masts
  • All four have committed to ‘legally binding contracts’ and invested £532 million 
  • The deal is set to cover 95 per cent of UK landmass with 4G access by late 2025
  • Just 66 per cent the UK’s landmass has good 4G reception from all four networks

The UK’s four largest mobile networks have agreed on a £1 billion deal with the government to make patchy internet coverage in rural areas ‘a thing of the past’. 

The Shared Rural Network (SRN) will see EE, O2, Three and Vodafone work together to bring 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2025.

As part of ‘legally binding’ contracts, the networks will invest in new and existing phone masts, overseen by a shared company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited.

The deal is set to bring guaranteed coverage to 280,000 premises and 9,942 miles (16,000km) of roads, with the biggest beneficiaries set to be Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Other benefits will include better coverage on 27,962 miles (45,000km) of roads and indoor signals for around 1.2 million businesses and homes.

EE, O2, Three and Vodafone have invested in a network of new and existing phone masts, overseen by a jointly owned company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited

Currently, around 9 per cent of the UK’s landmass does not have decent 4G outdoor mobile coverage from any operator, according to industry regulator Ofcom.

‘For too many people in the countryside a bad phone signal is a daily frustration,’ said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

‘So today we’re delivering on the Prime Minister’s 100-day promise to get a £1 billion landmark deal signed with industry to end poor and patchy mobile rural coverage. 

‘This is an important milestone to level up the country, improve people’s lives and increase prosperity across the length and breadth of our United Kingdom.’ 

The networks will each invest £532 million as part of the deal, with the aim of closing almost all partial not spots – areas where there is currently coverage from some but not all of the network operators. 

The scheme will lead to increases in coverage in some areas by more than a third, the government said, with the biggest improvements in rural parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales that only have partial 4G coverage or none at all. 

Complete and partial 4G ‘not spots’ in the UK that have little or no coverage, according to industry regulator Ofcom

The deal means network combined coverage will reach 95 per cent of the UK’s landmass in just over five years’ time. 

‘We welcome this agreement, which will make a real difference to all mobile customers right across the UK,’ said a spokesman for industry regulator Ofcom. 

‘We are making the coverage commitments legally binding by including them in operators’ licences. 

‘We’ll also monitor and report on companies’ progress in bringing better coverage to people and businesses.’ 

Philip Jansen, chief executive of the BT Group, which owns EE, said the Shared Rural Network is ‘something we can all be proud of’, while Three chief executive Dave Dyson described it as a ‘game-changer for the country’. 

‘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,’ O2 boss Mark Evans said.

Ofcom believes some 53,000 premises are unable to receive a decent fixed broadband service nor good 4G coverage indoors from any operator. 

Vodafone UK boss Nick Jeffery said: ‘A rural postcode should not be a barrier to receiving a decent mobile signal. 

‘Together, we have created a programme that is unmatched anywhere in the world. 

‘It will mean an end to mobile “not spots” for people in the more remote areas, whether they are at home, at work or on the move. 

‘We will now get on with the job of delivering it.’

Ofcom revealed in its Connected Nations 2019 report that just 66 per cent of the UK has 4G coverage from all four operators.

It estimates that 53,000 premises cannot access either a decent fixed broadband service or get good 4G coverage indoors from any operator. 

WHERE ARE THE WORST PLACES FOR 4G & BROADBAND IN THE UK? 

According to consumer rights advocate Which?, Scotland and Wales suffer the most from both poor broadband connections and limited 4G coverage.

Also notably impacted were constituencies made up predominantly of urban areas — including parts of Canterbury, Macclesfield, Maidstone, Norfolk, Southampton, Surrey and York.

These were joined by many seaside towns — including Dover, Cleethorpes, Great Yarmouth, Scarborough, Totnes and Whitby.

The Highlands and Islands were the most affected parts of Scotland, with the constituency of Na h-Eileanan an lar most poorly provided for with only 42 per cent of properties covered by all four network operators and only 81 per cent having a decent broadband connection.

In Wales, the constituency of Dwyfor Meirionnydd was worst off, with only 69 per cent of premises having 4G coverage from all four network operators and only 91 per cent having a decent broadband connection. 

Meanwhile, Northern Island was also poorly served — especially in urban areas — with Armagh and Newry worst hit, with only 82 per cent of premises. 

According to consumer rights advocate Which?, Scotland and Wales suffer the most from both poor broadband connections and limited 4G coverage 

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