Mobile network operators (MNOs) – O2 UK, Three UK and Vodafone UK – have issued a joint press release confirming that they will partner to build and share 222 new mobile masts to boost rural coverage across the country, and deliver the first stage of the Shared Rural Network (SRN). According to the trio, 124 new sites will be built in Scotland, with a further 54 in England, 33 in Wales and eleven in Northern Ireland; each operator will lead the construction of 74 of these new sites. With the building of the masts to get underway this year, work is expected to be completed by 2024, ‘in line with the agreement reached with the UK Government and Ofcom’. All three cellcos will now reportedly engage with local stakeholders and other key parties to ensure a timely and efficient roll out, which it is hoped will bring 4G connectivity to rural and unserved/underserved communities. It was noted, however, that the exact number and location of masts will be subject to finding suitable sites, obtaining power supply and backhaul and securing the necessary permissions through the planning system.
The SRN is a GBP1 billion (USD1.4 billion) programme aimed at improving rural mobile coverage and was agreed by MNOs, the government and Ofcom in March 2020. Funded by the mobile industry and the state, investment will be made in new and existing phone masts to increase all operators’ 4G coverage to at least 90% of UK landmass and their aggregate coverage to 95% by 2026. It is anticipated that the programme will provide guaranteed coverage to an additional 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads and boost ‘in car’ coverage.
Commenting, Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said the first phase of the SRN will help banish ‘not spots’ of poor or patchy mobile coverage and offer end users in rural areas greater choice of fast and reliable 4G services.