Mobile networks EE, O2, Three and Vodafone team up for £530m plan to bring 4G coverage to ‘not-spots’ with poor signal in remote areas in Britain

  • Government will also give up to £500 million to bring 4G to poorly-served areas 
  • Experts warn that legal barriers will need to be cleared for the deal to go ahead 
  • Deal aims to give mobile coverage to 280,000 premises and 9,942 miles of road
  • Almost a third of the UK suffers from patchy coverage 

The UK’s big four mobile operators will work together on a shared 4G rural network plan that aims to bring mobile connectivity to poorly served areas of the country.

EE, O2, Three and Vodafone will collectively fund £530 million towards a network of new and existing phone masts they would all share equally, though the deal is yet to be finalised.

If the deal goes ahead, the Government has pledged up to £500 million towards the proposal, which aims to bring 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025 by addressing so-called ‘not-spots’ in remote locations.

Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division, said: ‘This proposal, combined with critical government support, will ensure people and businesses right across the UK get access to the digital connectivity they need, wherever they are. 

In the UK, 80 per cent of constituencies do not have 4G coverage from all four operators (Lauren Hurley/PA)

Regulator Ofcom welcomed the news, saying: ‘These improvements will make a real difference to mobile customers across the UK, and we’ll ensure they’re legally binding by writing them into operators’ licences.

‘We will also monitor and report on companies’ progress in achieving better coverage.

‘Separately, we will shortly set out revised plans to release more airwaves for mobile services next year.

Vodafone, along with EE, O2 and Three, will collectively fund £530 million to bring 4G coverage to the UK’s remote areas

But according to industry experts, there are still several legal hurdles that could stall the deal.

‘Proposals to finally boost much-needed 4G coverage across the UK are positive and should help consumers access a better signal,’ said Caroline Normand, director of advocacy at Which?. 

‘But government and industry must now urgently clarify how these plans will deliver the right level of geographic coverage to match what people actually need.’

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at uSwitch.com, said: ‘While potentially exciting, this agreement still isn’t signed and has several legal hurdles to clear, so people in rural areas need to maintain pressure on the Government and network providers to get this over the line.’

The Government claims the move will banish almost all partial not-spots, where there is currently only coverage from at least one but not all operators, and an additional 280,000 premises and 9,942 miles (16,000km) of roads will have mobile coverage.  

Scott Petty, chief technology officer for Vodafone UK, says he is 90% certain that the deal will go through and that it is ‘extremely unlikely’ to have any impact on prices for consumers. 

‘I think this is a very efficient way for us to build the infrastructure and certainly more cost-effective than other proposals that have been put on the table,’ he said. 

 At present, almost a third of the UK suffers with patchy coverage.

The worst affected areas are in rural Scotland and Wales, according to Which?, but even parts of UK cities such as Brighton, Cardiff and Sheffield are not able to receive signals from the big four mobile operators.  

Rural areas of Scotland are particularly worse off for access to 4G coverage

HOW BAD IS THE UK’s 4G COVERAGE?

In the UK, 80 per cent of constituencies do not have 4G coverage from all four operators.  

67 per cent of the UK’s geographical area has 4G coverage from all four operators. 

8 per cent of the UK’s geographical area has no 4G mobile coverage at all. 

The worst constituencies for 4G coverage in England are Copeland and Bridgwater and West Somerset. 

Only three constituencies in Scotland – Aberdeen North, Glasgow North West and Glasgow South West – have complete 4G coverage from all four operators

In Wales, only the constituency of Cardiff Central has 100% 4G coverage from all four operators.

Northern Ireland had no constituencies with 100% 4G coverage from all four providers  

 Source: Which? 

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