Landmark deal agreed to improve UK mobile coverage

Out-Law News | 13 Mar 2020 | 10:47 am | 1 min. read

A landmark deal aimed at improving mobile coverage across the UK has been agreed by the UK government and the country's four largest mobile network operators (MNOs).

Under the 'shared rural network' arrangements, EE, O2, Three and Vodafone and the government will co-invest in addressing both full and partial 'not spots'. These are areas of the country where none, or only some, of the operators offer existing mobile coverage.

The operators' investment, of £532m collectively, will "close almost all" partial 'not spots'. This will be achieved through mast-sharing, where operators will be able to use existing infrastructure to install their own telecoms equipment, extending their mobile coverage into those areas.

More than £500m of government money will be used by the MNOs to install digital infrastructure in areas of the UK which up until now not been commercially viable for the operators to invest in.

Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited, a company owned in equal shares by the four MNOs, will deliver the project that had been provisionally agreed upon last year.

Colvin Simon

Simon Colvin

Partner, Head of Technology, Media and Telecoms

It is a real positive outcome for the country seeing the government work closely with the mobile operators to determine an innovative, industry-led solution 

Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, advised the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the initiative, including on the funding agreement and a range of legal and regulatory aspects of the deal.

"It is a real positive outcome for the country seeing the government work closely with the mobile operators to determine an innovative, industry-led solution to the challenge of total and partial 'not spots' in mobile coverage in the UK," said technology contracts expert Simon Colvin of Pinsent Masons.

The MNOs are subject to legally binding coverage commitments under the new agreement, which telecoms regulator Ofcom has the power to enforce. The government said that the four MNOs will deliver 95% combined coverage across the whole of the UK by the end of 2025.

According to the government, the biggest coverage improvements are expected to be delivered in rural parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – in Scotland alone, 91% of the country will have mobile coverage from at least one operator by the end of the project compared with 80% currently, while full coverage from all four operators will rise from spanning 42% of Scotland to 74%, it said.

UK digital secretary Oliver Dowden said: "This is an important milestone to level up the country, improve people’s lives and increase prosperity across the length and breadth of our United Kingdom."

Hamish MacLeod, director at Mobile UK, said: "The shared rural network partnership between the mobile operators and the government is unprecedented in both its scope and its ambition. Mobile UK looks forward to supporting the delivery of the programme in the coming years."

Ben Roome, chief executive of Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited, said: "The shared rural network is fantastic news for people who live and work in our beautiful countryside. In making it happen we’ll listen to rural communities and strive to maximise the benefits it will bring."