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Mobile operators agree binding deal with UK government on network coverage

The four largest mobile network operators (MNOs) in the UK have reached a "binding agreement" with the UK government on measures designed to improve the scope of the coverage they offer to consumers.  

Under the agreement, EE, O2, Three and Vodafone will help cut by two thirds the number of so-called 'not-spots' that exist in the UK - areas where there is no mobile network coverage at all, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said. 

The four MNOs will collectively invest £5 billion in improving their mobile network infrastructure by 2017, and have each committed to guaranteeing voice and text coverage across 90% of the area of the UK by 2017, under the new agreement. Full coverage from the operators, which includes data services, will also reach 85% of the UK within that timeframe, DCMS said. EE, O2, Three and Vodafone have also agreed to take steps to improve the reliability of the signal strength for voice services. 

The MNOs will be subject to altered licensing conditions to reflect the agreement, meaning that the terms of the deal can be enforced by telecoms regulator Ofcom. For its part in the deal, the government, which is not contributing any cash to cost of the measures being implemented, suggested it would lobby Ofcom to lower the licence fees the MNOs have to pay in future in recognition of the agreement they have signed up to. 

DCMS said that it would also update the "ineffective Electronic Communications Code to make it easier for the whole communications sector to rollout out new mobile and broadband services, and increase choice for consumers", and further allow many government buildings to be used as sites for mobile infrastructure to help boost mobile coverage. It said the agreement would result in the number of partial not-spots being halved. 

Culture secretary Sajid Javid said: "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. Government and businesses have been clear about the importance of mobile connectivity, and improved coverage, so this legally binding agreement will give the UK the world-class mobile phone coverage it needs and deserves." 

The new voluntary agreement means that the government will now step back from progressing with plans it consulted on last month to address the 'not-spots' problem.

EE chief executive Olaf Swantee said the agreement would enabled its customers to "stay connected in even more places up and down the country", whilst Derek McManus, chief operating officer of O2, said the agreement would support investment in O2's network "while ensuring that strong competition remains between the different networks". 

The agreement was also welcomed by Three and Vodafone. 

"Today’s agreement reflects the strength of our network today, our plans for the future and our commitment to bring its benefits to more people and more places than ever before," Dave Dyson, chief executive of Three, said. 

A spokesperson for Vodafone said the company had already spent £1 billion this year on its mobile network and services and that the new agreement "will make the UK a leader across Europe in terms of the reach of mobile coverage".

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