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£1bn deal set to solve poor mobile coverage

Written by: Emma Lunn
The government and four big mobile networks pledge £1bn to banish rural “not-spots”.

The plans involve EE, O2, Three and Vodafone sharing phone masts to improve UK coverage and aim to give high-quality 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by 2025.

Under the scheme, EE, O2, Three and Vodafone would invest in a network of new and existing phone masts they would all share. Consumers would be able to rely on their own provider’s network to use their mobile phones wherever they are.

The mobile networks would fund £530m for the Shared Rural Network, with the government adding £500m in a bid to eliminate “not-spots” completely.

The project follows government proposals for an overhaul of planning rules and is part of the Prime Minister’s plan to level up the country with world-class digital infrastructure across the country to make sure homes and businesses are better connected.

Nicky Morgan, digital secretary, said: “We are determined to make sure no part of the country is left behind when it comes to mobile connectivity. 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.

“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.”

Under the proposal, the four operators will invest £530m to open up and share existing masts and infrastructure to close almost all partial not-spots – areas where there is currently only coverage from at least one but not all operators. It would also mean additional mobile coverage for 280,000 premises and 16,000 kilometres of roads.

If the operators agree to meet these ambitions on partial not-spots, Morgan said the government will commit up to £500m of investment to go even further to eliminate total not-spots.

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

“For people to reap the benefits as soon as possible, government must ensure that action is immediate and that progress can be measured. Consumers also need to have a real choice of providers in all areas if they are going to see improvements.”

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