After years of complaints by mobile consumers and businesses that the major political parties had consistently failed rural firms by lacking a credible plan to improve mobile 4G and 5G coverage in their areas, EE has completed its 4G coverage upgrades under the first phase of the Shared Rural Network (SRN).
The £1.3bn SRN programme was designed to wipe so-called not-spots from the map, providing high-quality 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025.
The principle of the project is that through both public and private investment, the SRN is seeing new and existing phone masts built or upgraded across the UK to close down rural mobile not-spots. These are areas of poor or patchy coverage that cannot receive a 4G signal from all four MNOs, or any signal at all, which holds back rural communities from experiencing the full benefits of digital.
The UK’s four mobile network operators (MNOs) – EE, Virgin Media O2, Three and Vodafone – have committed to improve 4G coverage and level up connectivity across the UK, which has seen them invest in a shared network of new and existing phone masts, overseen by a jointly owned company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL).
The operators’ £532m investment is complemented by more than £500m in government funding. The coverage commitments are being enforced by UK communications regulator Ofcom.
To deliver the first phase of the programme, all operators committed to upgrade or build mobile infrastructure and extend the reach of their 4G networks to eliminate partial not-spots.
The second phase of the SRN, publicly funded by the UK government, is due to be completed in 2027, and will develop shared masts to bring 4G connectivity to areas with no existing mobile service. The Ofcom deadline for all of the operators to meet their individual initial SRN coverage targets for partial not-spot areas is June 2024.
Read more about the SRN
- EE boosts 4G mobile coverage in rural Northern Ireland through SRN: Operator announces upgrade of 139 mobile mast sites across Northern Ireland, making it on track to meet its obligations under the UK government’s deployment programme.
- Solid Q2 results as Three builds 100th Shared Rural Network site: In midst of dealing with strategic merger with erstwhile rival, telco announces construction completion of 100 sites as part of network build-out designed to provide 4G connectivity to 37,000+ rural premises.
- Virgin Media O2’s Shared Rural Network roll-out reaches 50th site: As part of its commitment to the £1bn programme designed to bring significant improvement to UK mobile coverage in non-metro areas, leading UK operator rolls out reliable 4G coverage across 50 rural sites.
- Scottish residents and businesses in £75m 4G investment boost: First UK government-funded phone mast upgrade activated in Scottish borders to give major 4G mobile coverage boost to community.
EE said careful planning and prioritised investment have meant it has expanded its 4G network to over 1,600 more countryside communities across every region of the UK, exceeding its SRN targets six months in advance of the deadline.
The upgrades delivered under the SRN programme have in part enabled EE to expand 4G connectivity for its customers across the UK by a further 10,000 square kilometres over the past five years. EE’s 4G geographic coverage in each individual nation now stands at: England (94%), Northern Ireland (89%), Scotland (77%) and Wales (86%).
“Today is another major milestone in our ongoing work to help close the UK’s digital divide,” said EE chief networks officer Greg McCall. “From farmers in Northern Ireland and local businesses in the Scottish Highlands, to tourists in the Lake District or Eryri National Park, EE is delivering the reliable mobile connectivity Britain’s rural communities need.
“Even though we have met our Shared Rural Network commitments months ahead of time, we will continue to focus on enhancing mobile connectivity in areas without any existing coverage to ensure everyone – residents, tourists, local businesses and the emergency services – have the connectivity they need to thrive in the years ahead.”