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The British government has gotten the country’s four big mobile operators to agree to boost their coverage, to tackle so-called not-spots in rural areas.
EE, O2, Three and Vodafone said Thursday that they would jointly invest £5 billion ($7.8 billion) in the program over the next couple of years. This will result in guaranteed voice and SMS coverage over 90 percent of the U.K. geographic area, with services from all four operators going up from 69 percent to 85 percent of the land.
According to the most recent statistics from telecoms regulator Ofcom, 99.7 percent of premises can now get outdoor 2G mobile coverage from at least one carrier, and 99.5 percent can get 3G coverage. However, geographical coverage is another story – more like 80 percent – and today’s agreement is intended to provide connectivity to those in remote areas.
The government said in a statement that the deal, which involves amendments to the operators’ licence conditions, would halve the areas “currently blighted by patchy coverage as a result of partial ‘not-spots.'”
“I am pleased to have secured a legally binding deal with the four mobile networks,” Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said in the statement. “Too many parts of the UK regularly suffer from poor mobile coverage leaving them unable to make calls or send texts.”
Javid had previously threatened to create a “national roaming” framework, through which the carriers would have been forced to let their customers lock onto whichever network was providing a signal in a given location, if their own wasn’t available.
The idea saw tremendous pushback not only from the operators, who argued it would “limit incentives for investment in future mobile network infrastructure,” but also from the Home Office, which said it would make it more difficult for authorities to spy on people.
“A partnership between government and the mobile operators is required to maximise coverage across the UK, so this agreement is a good outcome for our customers,” O2 COO Derek McManus said in the statement. “It will support investment in our network, while ensuring that strong competition remains between the different networks.”