Government signs up UK mobile operators to Shared Rural Network scheme

via Flickr © Alison Christine (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Alison Christine (CC BY 2.0)

  • The deal is supposed to finally close the UK’s rural/urban digital divide
  • Greatest improvements are expected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • Deal is supposed to take 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the UK landmass by end of 2025
  • They’ll probably all meet again fairly soon to decide how much money will be required to subsidise rural 5G

The UK’s four mobile networks and the government have finally come to terms over the UK’s Shared Rural Network (SRN) with a £1 billion deal shared between the operators and the government that, the government crows, will make “patchy rural phone coverage a thing of the past.”

The deal is supposed to close the rural/urban divide in UK service provision by having all four services join forces to build a single network where it’s believed competitive rural service provision is unviable. Instead, the idea is that the operators will build one reasonably dense network, using existing and new masts,  and share the costs and the service revenues, with the build subsidised by the government’s £0.5 billion sweetener. 

The SRN is to be overseen by a jointly owned company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited. It is contracted to provide guaranteed coverage to 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads, with further indirect improvements being made 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 claims. 

The deal will see the biggest  coverage improvements in rural parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and it means all four mobile network operators will deliver 95 per cent combined coverage across the whole of the UK by the end of 2025 and consumers can rely on their own provider’s network wherever they are.

The four networks have committed to legally binding contracts and investing £532m to close almost all partial not-spots: areas where there is currently only coverage from at least one but not all operators. The investment is to 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.  

The legally binding coverage commitments will be enforced by Ofcom which will have the power to issue fines of up to 10 per cent of an operator’s gross revenue if they jointly fail to meet their targets.

There is no mention of 5G. That will presumably be subject to another protracted negotiation in two or three years’ time.

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