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Government and operators agree deal for Shared Rural Network

The £1bn deal will see EE, O2, Three and Vodafone share new and existing phone masts to boost coverage in rural areas.

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The UK’s four largest mobile networks have agreed a deal with the Government to invest in new and existing phone masts to improve coverage in rural areas (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The UK’s four largest mobile networks have agreed a deal with the Government to invest in new and existing phone masts to improve coverage in rural areas (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The UK’s four largest mobile networks have agreed a deal with the Government to invest in new and existing phone masts to improve coverage in rural areas (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The UK’s four largest mobile networks have agreed a deal with the Government to invest in new and existing phone masts to improve coverage in rural areas.

The Shared Rural Network (SRN) will see EE, O2, Three and Vodafone work together to end poor mobile phone coverage.

The four networks will invest in new and existing phone masts, overseen by a jointly owned company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited, which they would all share.

The £1 billion deal is set to bring guaranteed coverage to 280,000 premises and 9,942 miles (16,000km) of roads.

The investment will also lead to indirect improvements in other areas over time, the Government said, including better coverage on 27,962 miles (45,000km) of roads and indoor signals for around 1.2 million businesses and homes.

The networks will invest £532 million as part of the deal, with the aim of closing almost all partial not spots – areas where there is currently coverage from some operators, but not all.

The scheme will lead to increases in coverage in some areas by more than a third, the Government said, with the biggest improvements in rural parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

The deal means network combined coverage will reach 95% of the UK by the end of 2025.

Cabinet reshuffle
Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said the SRN is ‘an important milestone to level up the country, improve people’s lives and increase prosperity’ (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “For too many people in the countryside a bad phone signal is a daily frustration.

“So today we’re delivering on the Prime Minister’s 100-day promise to get a £1 billion landmark deal signed with industry to end poor and patchy mobile rural coverage.

“This is an important milestone to level up the country, improve people’s lives and increase prosperity across the length and breadth of our United Kingdom.”

In response to the announcement, a spokesman for industry regulator Ofcom said: “We welcome this agreement, which will make a real difference to all mobile customers right across the UK.

“We are making the coverage commitments legally binding by including them in operators’ licences.

“We’ll also monitor and report on companies’ progress in bringing better coverage to people and businesses.”

Philip Jansen, chief executive of the BT Group, which owns EE, said the Shared Rural Network is “something we can all be proud of”.

The collaboration between the industry, Government and Ofcom should be seen as a leading example of how to deliver infrastructure investment and we look forward to now rolling the Shared Rural Network out as quickly as possibleMark Evans, O2

O2 boss Mark Evans said: “The collaboration between the industry, Government and Ofcom should be seen as a leading example of how to deliver infrastructure investment and we look forward to now rolling the Shared Rural Network out as quickly as possible.”

Three chief executive Dave Dyson described the deal as a “game-changer for the country”.

Vodafone UK boss Nick Jeffery said: “A rural postcode should not be a barrier to receiving a decent mobile signal.

“Together, we have created a programme that is unmatched anywhere in the world. It will mean an end to mobile ‘not spots’ for people in the more remote areas, whether they are at home, at work or on the move.

“We will now get on with the job of delivering it.”

PA