The UK’s four main mobile networks have agreed a £5 billion investment plan aimed at improving coverage in rural areas. The move comes after the government threatened to impose national roaming, giving users access to masts of rival networks when their carrier didn’t offer coverage.
According to an official government statement, the deal will help tackle ‘partial not–spots’, where some networks deliver access but others don’t.
By 2017, Vodafone, EE, Three and O2 will each have to deliver 90% voice and text coverage across the country. This will halve the number of not–spots according to the government. Full coverage, including data access, will need to rise from 69% to 85% by the same year.
The deal is legally enforceable and will be regulated by Ofcom. The government is not investing any additional public funds, although it did reiterate that it was still planning on spending £150 million on improving coverage in areas that had no mobile access.
“I am pleased to have secured a legally binding deal with the four mobile networks. Too many parts of the UK regularly suffer from poor mobile coverage leaving them unable to make calls or send texts,” said Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid.
The higher coverage numbers are still unlikely to placate rural users and businesses, who say they are treated as second class citizens by networks and the government when it comes to access to communications.