Coverage boost for UK mobile subs

The UK’s four mobile network operators have finalised what the UK Government is describing as a “landmark” deal to deliver improved mobile coverage for consumers across the UK.

As part of the Government’s long-term economic plan, the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid has secured legal requirements from the four mobile networks to tackle poor signal issues in so-called ‘partial not-spots’.
These are areas within the UK that have coverage from some but not all of the four mobile networks. Depending on the network consumers are on, they may have no coverage in these areas.

The mobile networks EE, O2, Three and Vodafone have now made the deal legally binding by accepting amended licence conditions to reflect the agreement. This means that for the first time ever, Ofcom will be able to enforce a consistent signal strength from each of the mobile network operators across the whole area they service, with huge benefits for consumers.

Javid said that for far too long, too many parts of the UK have regularly suffered from poor mobile coverage leaving them unable to make calls or send texts. “Now at last we have progress that will give the UK the world-class mobile phone coverage it needs and deserves. The deal will also bring £5 billion (€6.6bn) investment by the mobile networks into the UK’s infrastructure, which will help drive this Government’s long-term economic plan,” he explained.

Under the agreement – a first ever – all four of the mobile networks have collectively agreed to:

* £5 billion investment programme to improve mobile infrastructure by 2017 – potentially creating jobs and a boost for the UK economy;
* guaranteed voice and text coverage from each operator across 90 per cent of the UK geographic area by 2017, halving the areas currently blighted by patchy coverage as a result of partial ‘not-spots’;
* full coverage from all four mobile operators will increase from 69 per cent to 85 per cent of geographic areas by 2017; and
* provide reliable signal strength for voice for each type of mobile service (whether 2G/3G/4G) – currently many consumers frequently lose signal or cannot get signal long enough to make a call.

As a result of the deal, it will cut total ‘not-spots’ where there is currently no mobile coverage by two-thirds. This will support the Government’s existing £150 million programme to take mobile coverage to the areas of the UK that have no coverage at all. Many parts of the UK will also benefit from better data coverage, some for the first time.

Mobile networks will now take forward their plans to improve mobile coverage and Ofcom will monitor progress regularly. The Secretary of State expects the operators to meet an interim goal in 2016, and will be receiving updates on this.

Derek McManus, Chief Operating Officer of O2, described the agreement as a good outcome for its customers. “It will support investment in our network, while ensuring that strong competition remains between the different networks,” he added.

The Government also intends to publish draft legislation for consultation on reforming the Electronic Communications Code to support the roll-out of communications infrastructure and the expansion of mobile coverage. This is part of the Government’s drive to make that consumers have a choice of high-quality communications.

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