The UK’s four largest mobile phone companies – EE, Three, Vodafone, and O2 – have announced plans to get rid of what are known as “not-spots”, or rural areas that currently have inadequate network coverage.
At the moment, around a third of the UK has either non-existant or patchy mobile phone coverage. The new plan aims to cover an additional 280,000 homes and businesses, as well as 16,000km of roads.
The deal, which has been set out alongside the government, is worth £1 billion and aims to get 95% of the UK 4G coverage by 2025. The government is planning to match the contribution of businesses, although this hasn’t been finalised. It’s expected the deal with be confirmed next year.
This follows years of negotiations between mobile network providers and the government about how to improve network coverage in the UK. Previously, the government threatened to allow customers to use each other’s networks in “non-spots”. However, the providers said this would be harmful to 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.”
Vodafone’s chief technology officer, Scott Petty, added in an interview: “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. 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.”
The news has also been welcomed by many businesses. For example, Mark Bridgeman of the Country Land and Business Association said: “We have been hugely frustrated at the lack of progress in improving mobile reception to date. This announcement will be welcomed by everyone who lives or works in the countryside.”