The UK government has this morning announced a deal with the four big mobile networks offering a cumulative boost of £1 billion of funding to end rural 4G not-spots by 2025.
If you live in a rural area with patchy 4G, this may ring a little hollow, and with good reason: the 2017 Conservative party manifesto contained a pledge that this target would be hit by 2022, but at this point that plainly isn’t going to happen.
In any case, there’s an argument for “better late than never”, and that’s what the government seems to be offering this morning. The plan is for a Shared Rural Network (SRN) which will see EE, O2, Three and Vodafone investing a cumulative £530 million, which will be matched by £500 million from the government.
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“We are determined to make sure no part of the country is left behind when it comes to mobile connectivity,” said digital secretary Nicky Morgan. “We are closing in on a deal with the mobile network operators so those living in rural areas will be able to get the fast and reliable mobile coverage they need and deserve.”
It has some way to go. The most recent data from Ofcom shows just 66% of areas covered by all operators, although that’s not evenly divided between them. As EE’s own coverage page states, it has 84% of the country covered on its own, a point that Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division, couldn’t help restating in his statement.
“While EE already has the UK’s largest 4G network, we’re always looking at new ways to efficiently deliver more 4G to areas that are hardest to reach,” he said.
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Still, it’s hard to argue with the ambition. “There is no other scheme like this in the world,” said Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery, “It will spell an end to annoying mobile ‘not spots’ for hundreds of thousands of people living, working and travelling in the more remote parts of the UK.”
Three UK CEO David Dyson reckons that will help balance out opportunity around the country. “It is the best way to enhance mobile connectivity for the 9.3 million living in the UK’s countryside: it brings mobile coverage to more places in the UK and it gives people in rural areas a similar choice as those living in towns and cities,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by O2’s Mark Evans. “Mobile has become so much more than the phone in your hand; it’s the glue that powers the UK’s economy and will be a fundamental component of our national success in the years to come.”
Do you live in a rural part of the UK? Do you struggle for 4G? Let us know how optimistic you are about these proposals on Twitter: @TrustedReviews.