Culture Secretary Sajid Javid today (Thursday) announces a landmark deal with the four mobile networks to improve mobile coverage across the UK.

As part of its long-term economic plan, the Government has secured a binding agreement with the mobile networks EE, O2, Three and Vodafone to tackle poor signal issues in so-called ‘partial not-spots’.

These are areas within the UK that have coverage from some but not all of the four mobile networks. Depending on the network consumers are on, they may have no coverage in these areas.

Under the agreement all four of the mobile networks have collectively agreed to:

  • a guaranteed £5bn investment programme to improve mobile infrastructure by 2017;
  • guaranteed voice and text coverage from each operator across 90 per cent of the UK geographic area by 2017, halving the areas currently blighted by patchy coverage as a result of partial ‘not-spots’;
  • full coverage from all four mobile operators will increase from 69 per cent to 85 per cent of geographic areas by 2017;
  • provide reliable signal strength for voice for each type of mobile service (whether 2G/3G/4G) – currently many consumers frequently lose signal or cannot get signal long enough to make a call; and
  • make the deal legally binding by accepting amended licence conditions to reflect the agreement – it will be enforceable by Ofcom.

No cash payments will be made by Government to the mobile networks as part of this agreement.

This deal will also result in cutting total ‘not-spots’ where there is currently no mobile coverage by two-thirds. This will support the Government’s existing £150m programme to take mobile coverage to the areas of the UK that have no coverage at all.

As a result of the agreement, many areas will receive better data coverage, some for the first time. During the recent consultation process, consumers made it very clear that they feel any solution should include better data coverage.

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 £5bn investment from the mobile networks in the UK’s infrastructure will help drive this Government’s long-term economic plan.”

Whilst discussions with the mobile operators on a voluntary solution continued, the Government consulted on various legislative options in November 2014 to ensure that the issue of poor mobile coverage was addressed. This voluntary binding agreement secures a better deal for consumers and businesses as it:

  • will halve partial not-spots and reduce complete not-spots by almost two-thirds;
  • guarantees £5bn investment by mobile networks in the UK’s mobile infrastructure – potentially creating jobs and a boost for the UK economy; and
  • provides some of the best coverage of any major European country – underpinning the Government’s long-term economic plan.

As part of the agreement, the Government:

  • will bring this agreement to the attention of Ofcom in the context of their work to revise Annual Licence Fees – this is the subscription fee mobile networks pay Government;
  • intends to reform the out-dated and 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
  • is allowing many of the Government’s freehold buildings to be used as sites for mobile infrastructure – potentially opening up hundreds of sites to boost mobile coverage, including areas where is has been previously difficult to rollout network coverage.

 

Commenting on the government’s announcement of a private-sector led £5bn investment into the UK’s mobile infrastructure,Tom Nolan, Policy Manager at the British Chambers of Commerce said:

"Erasing mobile phone 'not-spots' is a priority for frustrated rural and urban businesses. Our Business Manifesto has called for future governments to ensure all British businesses have access to world class digital infrastructure. This announcement is a step in the right direction, but should form part of a wider plan to deliver a reliable mobile network throughout the UK. Many firms rely on mobile phones for their daily work, so increasing coverage will help to boost productivity.”