The government has secured a spending commitment of £5bn from the UK’s four mobile operators to guarantee improved rural mobile coverage across the country.
The deal means the operators have avoided being forced into providing "national roaming", but instead will have to commit to enforceable targets that should dramatically improve mobile coverage in rural areas.
These include all operators guaranteeing 2G coverage across 90 percent of the UK by 2017, and increasing the entire coverage of their networks – i.e. 3G and 4G – to 85 percent of the UK by the same date.
Operators will also ensure that the signal strength offered by their networks in remote locations is adequate.
The government said it believes the deal will reduce the amount of "not-spot" areas in the UK – where no coverage is available – by two-thirds. It will also support the ongoing £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP).
The commitments will be overseen by Ofcom.
Culture secretary Sajid Javid said the deal was a great outcome for the UK and should have long-term benefits.
“Government and businesses have been clear about the importance of mobile connectivity, and improved coverage, so this legally binding agreement will give the UK the world-class mobile phone coverage it needs and deserves,” he said.
“The £5bn investment from the mobile networks in the UK’s infrastructure will help drive this government’s long-term economic plan.”
Despite the positive tone from all involved in the deal, the agreement to simply improve coverage, rather than implementing national roaming, is also a victory for home secretary Theresa May.
She had raised objections to the idea of national roaming as it would have made it harder for law enforcement agencies to track people on mobile networks. It appears her objections, alongside those of the operators themselves, proved compelling.
Vodafone said it supported the deal as it would benefit millions of UK citizens and customers.
“The voluntary industry commitment we have agreed with the government today will deliver 90 per cent of the UK’s land mass with voice services and a major improvement in mobile internet coverage as well,” a Vodafone spokesperson said.
“It is a great result for UK consumers and businesses and it will make the UK a leader across Europe in terms of the reach of mobile coverage.”
EE CEO Olaf Swantee also welcomed the deal: "This agreement ensures that our customers are able to stay connected in even more places up and down the country."
Derek McManus, chief operating officer of O2, and Three CEO Dave Dyson were also positive about the deal, claiming it would have numerous benefits for consumers and businesses alike.
Not all were as happy, though. The president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), Henry Robinson, said the deal was just another example of big statements but little in the way of concrete action.
“This announcement contains big numbers and strong words but in reality it perpetuates the status quo and will leave thousands of homes and businesses with the prospect of poor or no mobile phone coverage for years to come," he said.
"It is deeply disappointing that the government has not pushed the providers to come up with more radical solutions.
"We are keen to know whether this agreement ends the prospect of a national roaming network that we know is hated by the mobile phone providers, but in our view has the potential to provide choice and access in rural communities."
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