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UK.gov binds mobe operators to £5bn not-spot deal

Networks agree investment for 90 per cent Blighty voice/text coverage

By Brid-Aine Parnell, 18 Dec 2014

Blighty’s government has announced a new deal with the top four mobe operators in the country to improve the state of so-called mobile roaming "not-spots".

Culture secretary Sajid Javid announced a binding agreement with EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, meaning they will tackle poor signal issues in certain areas by investing £5bn, guaranteeing coverage across 90 per cent of the country by 2017.

The government had previously touted the idea of national roaming, allowing folks to hop onto another network if their own operator was out of service.

But the mobe firms were vociferously against the idea of letting their competitors install transmitters on their masts and allowing virtual operators - such as Tesco Mobile or Virgin - to cruise all four networks.

They estimated that national roaming wouldn’t improve coverage by all that much because it would affect the reliability of the networks and probably lead to cost rises.

EE commissioned a report from Capital Economics, which El Reg has talked about before, that claimed national roaming would lead to a reduction in industry capital expenditure of £360-440m each year, delay the rollout of 4G by 18-24 months, and reduce GDP by 0.1-0.2 per cent.

So, operators have agreed to invest £5bn to improve mobile infrastructure by 2017 and guarantee voice and text coverage from each of them across 90 per cent of the country. The government estimates this will halve the number of areas currently blighted by partial not-spots.

Meanwhile, full coverage from the networks needs to increase from 69 per cent to 85 per cent of Blighty in the next two years, and signal strength should become more reliable under the deal, which is legally binding.

“Too many parts of the UK regularly suffer from poor mobile coverage leaving them unable to make calls or send texts,” Sajid Javid said in a statement.

“Government 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 £5bn investment from the mobile networks in the UK’s infrastructure will help drive this government’s long-term economic plan.”

The government estimates it’s scored a win by getting the networks to sign onto this deal, which will be enforced by telecoms regulator Ofcom, rather than pursuing legislative means to improve mobile connectivity, an option it began considering last month.

The four networks all issued statements to the effect that they were delighted to support the government’s plans to improve coverage in rural areas, and investing billions was their absolute pleasure since they’re all about their customers. ®

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