British mobile network operators are said to have reached a deal with the government under which they will look to fill in partial gaps in coverage with a view to ensuring that all four cellcos’ networks reach 90% of the country’s population by 2017. The Financial Times cited UK culture secretary Sajid Javid as saying that the agreement would not cost the government any money for now, though it was suggested that the annual licence fee for operators could, in the future, be reduced.
As per the agreement signed by EE, O2 UK, Vodafone UK and Hutchison 3G UK (Three), the quartet have collectively agreed to invest some GBP5 billion (USD7.85 billion) in the nation’s mobile infrastructure; such expenditure will reportedly include the construction of new towers and investment in new technology in order to achieve guaranteed voice and text coverage across 90% of the UK by 2017. The minister noted that the deal will be made legally binding through amended licence conditions to be enforced by local telecoms regulator Ofcom, while confirming that with regards to possible future compensation for the cellcos the state would ‘bring this agreement to the attention of Ofcom in the context of their work to revise annual licence fees’. For its part, the watchdog will also be required to monitor the delivery of the agreement, and is expected to report on whether cellcos are meeting an interim goal in 2016.
Meanwhile, it has also been revealed that ministers have agreed to reform the Electronic Communications Code, with the changes designed to make it easier for operators to roll out new mobile and broadband services, while allowing some official buildings to be used as sites for mobile infrastructure.
Commenting on the development, Mr Javid said: ‘Government and business have been clear about the importance of mobile connectivity and improved coverage. This legally binding agreement will give the UK the mobile phone coverage it needs and deserves.’ An unnamed Vodafone UK spokesman meanwhile added: ‘The voluntary industry commitment we have agreed with the government will deliver 90% of the UK’s land mass with voice services and a major improvement in mobile internet coverage as well.’