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Mobile networks to invest £500m to rid UK of signal black spots

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Rural areas have seen low investment in phone networks, something the government hopes will change. Photo: Getty

The four main mobile phone operators in the UK have pledged to invest more than £500m in a shared network that would dramatically reduce the number of signal black spots in the country by 2025.

As part of the “world-first deal”, EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone have said that they hope the UK will have 95% 4G coverage within five years.

Around a third of the country currently has weak or non-existent coverage. Under the plan, which will see the operators invest in a shared network of phone masts, more than 280,000 homes and 16,000km of the country’s roads will get improved coverage.

The operators have agreed to share infrastructure in areas where there is coverage from at least one operator, but not all four. This would supposedly see an almost complete elimination of all partial blackspots.

The government said on Thursday that it would consider matching the investment with £500m of state funds.

“We are determined to make sure no part of the country is left behind when it comes to mobile connectivity,” said digital minister Nicky Morgan.

“We are closing in on a deal with the mobile network operators so those living in rural areas will be able to get the fast and reliable mobile coverage they need and deserve.”

Morgan cautioned that the plan was “not yet a done deal”, but said that she hoped the operators could move quickly and that final agreement would be reached in early 2020.

The government noted that “strong competition” between the operators usually resulted in good mobile phone coverage in cities, but said that rural errors have fewer potential customers and thus have seen lower levels of investment.

It called the Shared Rural Network an “innovative and unique solution” to the problem of poor mobile coverage in the countryside.