Ofcom has laid out plans to extend 4G next-generation mobile coverage to 98% of the UK population following the switch-over from analogue to digital TV services, which will free up the 800MHz radio spectrum.
In November Ofcom published maps showing that superfast broadband speeds remain patchy outside of the country's main cities and Northern Ireland, with good 3G mobile coverage almost exclusively confined to London.
Following a consultation in March 2011, the telecoms regulator is now proposing to extend UK 4G coverage from 95% to 98%. It wants to improve coverage by ensuring one 800MHz operator provides 4G services that not only match existing 2G coverage but also extend into mobile "not spot" areas of the UK.
In October, the government announced plans to invest £150m to boost mobile coverage in those areas with poor or no mobile service. A significant part of this money is likely to be spent on building new mobile infrastructure in areas of the UK where there is little or no commercial incentive for operators to do so.
Ofcom claims this may have the potential to extend 4G mobile coverage beyond 98% of the UK. The watchdog said the £150m would make it more likely that mobile broadband services would be provided in locations where they could be most valued by consumers, rather than in those areas where it is easiest for a licensee to meet the obligation.
Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said the proposals are aimed at making the UK a more competitive mobile phone market: “This means that consumers pay less for mobile communications services and have the choice to shop around for packages that suit them best.”
Tory MP Rory Stewart has campaigned for Ofcom to extend 4G mobile coverage to 98% of the country. Stewart said: "It is fantastic that Ofcom has responded to parliament’s campaign in this way. We need growth in Britain and this investment will transform our businesses and economy. Almost nothing has a more dramatic effect on the growth of small businesses than giving them good broadband and mobile access."