This week, we’ve been talking to Gareth Elliott, Head of Policy and Communications at Mobile UK to understand more about the Shared Rural Network.
“Having good mobile coverage is widely recognised as being essential for the future prosperity of the rural economy and for rural communities. People increasingly want the flexibility to work from home and many sectors such as farming, tourism and transport are using mobile connectivity to increase productivity and improve services. This has become ever more important as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and the UK has been put into lockdown with mass home working and the need to connect with family and friends virtually.
Patchy mobile coverage is therefore one of today’s real concerns as the world becomes ever more connected. In the UK, many of the rural areas currently get only partial coverage or none at all. Ofcom’s most recent data states that 91% of the country receives 4G coverage from at least one operator and 66% from all four. Happily, the industry and the Government has come together with an unprecedented proposal that will significantly extend coverage and eliminate the vast majority of partial not spots, areas not covered by all four operators.”
The proposal is called the Shared Rural Network and it is backed by both the Government and all four of the mobile network operators, who are jointly investing £532 million themselves along with a further £500 million of public investment. The Shared Rural Network agreement was officially signed on 9th March 2020.
The Shared Rural Network programme is made up of two parts: eliminating partial not spots and building new coverage. Industry will be investing £532 million to tackle the first part. This will involve the four network operators installing their own radio equipment on each other’s existing masts, resulting in new 4G coverage from all mobile companies. As this involves all four operators it goes further than previous Ofcom recommendations, which would have required only two operators to extend to 90% of the UK’s landmass, and will eliminate a substantial majority of partial not spots where currently there is only one or more operator.
The second element involves the Government investing £500 million to build new masts for use by all four operators and thus extend 4G into areas where there is currently no coverage. The overall outcome from these two elements is that the four operators will provide 4G coverage to 84% of the UK’s landmass, with each individual operator providing a minimum of 90% 4G coverage, and in addition 95% of the UK’s geographic area, and virtually all premises, will be able to get 4G from at least one operator.
Rural local government and businesses will have an important role to play in ensuring that the Shared Rural Network programme runs according to plan. Upgrades and new infrastructure will require interaction with planning departments, and so having policies and guidance in place to prepare will enable more efficient deployment, and landowners. The industry is already engaging with local bodies across the country and, in the coming months, once we have a more detailed idea of the build plan, will be seeking to reach out further.
The Shared Rural Network is an exciting project that marks a step change in 4G coverage across the UK. It is also ambitious with completion set for 2025/26. The industry stands ready and we look forward to working with local council bodies to bring mobile connectivity to rural areas across the United Kingdom.
Graham Biggs of the Rural Services Network highlighted:
“At the Rural Services Network, we welcome initiatives that will bring greater connectivity to our rural communities provided that care is taken when developing the network in protected landscapes. Rural Communities, along with the rural economy, have been disadvantaged by poor connectivity and at the current time, having access to broadband and mobile telephone connectivity is vital.”
For more information on the Shared Rural network visit: https://www.mobileuk.org/shared-rural-network
The four mobile operators have also released a statement about the importance of protecting critical infrastructure at this time:
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