UK consumers and businesses set to benefit from guaranteed £5 billion investment into UK’s mobile infrastructure in what is being described as a landmark deal with the four mobile networks to improve mobile coverage across the UK,
As part of its long-term economic plan, the UK Government has secured a binding agreement with the mobile networks EE, O2, Three and Vodafone 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.
Under the agreement all four of the mobile networks have collectively agreed to:
a guaranteed £5 billion investment programme to improve mobile infrastructure by 2017;
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;
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; and
make the deal legally binding by accepting amended licence conditions to reflect the agreement – it will be enforceable by Ofcom.
No cash payments will be made by Government to the mobile networks as part of this agreement.
This deal will also result in cutting 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.
As a result of the agreement, many areas will receive better data coverage, some for the first time. During the recent consultation process, consumers made it very clear that they feel any solution should include better data coverage.
Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said: “I am pleased to have secured a legally binding deal with the four mobile networks. Too many parts of the UK regularly suffer from poor mobile coverage leaving them unable to make calls or send texts.mGovernment 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. The £5 billion investment from the mobile networks in the UK’s infrastructure will help drive this Government’s long-term economic plan.”
Whilst discussions with the mobile operators on a voluntary solution continued, the Government consulted on various legislative options in November 2014 to ensure that the issue of poor mobile coverage was addressed. This voluntary binding agreement secures a better deal for consumers and businesses as it:
will halve partial not-spots and reduce complete not-spots by almost two-thirds;
guarantees £5 billion investment by mobile networks in the UK’s mobile infrastructure – potentially creating jobs and a boost for the UK economy; and
provides some of the best coverage of any major European country – underpinning the Government’s long-term economic plan.
As part of the agreement, the Government:
will bring this agreement to the attention of Ofcom in the context of its work to revise Annual Licence Fees – this is the subscription fee mobile networks pay Government;
intends to reform the out-dated and ineffective Electronic Communications Code to make it easier for the whole communications sector to rollout out new mobile and broadband services, and increase choice for consumers; and
is allowing many of the Government’s freehold buildings to be used as sites for mobile infrastructure – potentially opening up hundreds of sites to boost mobile coverage, including areas where is has been previously difficult to roll out network coverage.
EE CEO Olaf Swantee said: “EE is focused on bringing the best voice and data service to its customers across the UK, and only last week announced 1,500 unconnected villages will soon benefit from EE coverage. 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, said: “A partnership between government and the mobile operators is required to maximise coverage across the UK, so this agreement is a good outcome for our customers. It will support investment in our network, while ensuring that strong competition remains between the different networks.”
Dave Dyson, Chief Executive of Three, said: “We’ve doubled the size of our network in the past five years and we continue to invest to maintain a great network experience for our customers. Today’s agreement reflects the strength of our network today, our plans for the future and our commitment to bring its benefits to more people and more places than ever before.”
A Vodafone UK spokesperson said: “We support the Government’s objective of delivering better coverage to rural areas including partial not spots. This is why Vodafone is already spending £1 billion on our network and services in the UK this year alone and will continue to spend a similar amount next year as well. 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. 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.”
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.
The Government consulted on various legislative options dealing with partial coverage:
National roaming – phones would roam onto another network’s signal when theirs was not available.
Infrastructure sharing – mobile networks would be able to put transmitters on each other’s masts
Reforming virtual networks – companies such as Tesco and Virgin currently agree access to a single network and then sell mobile packages to consumers. We could ensure these virtual networks were able to offer mobiles that accessed all four networks
Coverage obligation – oblige the networks to cover a certain percentage of the UK but leaving it open for them to decide how to best to achieve this outcome