Mark Jackson

Mobile operator O2 (Telefonica) has welcomed expectations that the current UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, will today announce plans to prioritise mobile coverage, particularly in rural areas. The operator expects that the move will support the industry-led plan for a new Shared Rural Network (SRN) alongside Vodafone, EE and Three UK.

The UK Conservative Party has already published their Manifesto for the 12th December 2019 General Election, which was surprisingly light on any solid commitments for mobile network coverage. Instead it only vaguely promised to “provide greater mobile coverage across the country,” which is notable because their 2017 manifesto clearly pledged to extend geographic 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2022.

Alongside the 2017 pledge they also promised that “by the same date, all major roads and main line trains will enjoy full and uninterrupted mobile phone signal, alongside guaranteed WiFi internet service on all such trains.” As it stands the 95% target will not be achieved by all operators come 2022 (although EE alone stands a good chance).

Instead the Government, Ofcom and all four of the primary mobile operators recently signed a new £1bn industry-led deal on mobile coverage (here). The aim of that SRN is to extend geographic coverage – via 4G or better – to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025 (the Government will put £500m into this), which will be delivered via a mix of shared mast infrastructure and new mast builds in rural areas. O2 expects the Prime Minister to put his weight behind that today.

Derek McManus, O2 Chief Operating Officer, said:

“This is fantastic news for mobile customers. O2 has developed and championed the Shared Rural Network over many months, working hand in hand with other operators to get the best experience for people in rural areas.

We believe it offers the best way to deliver major improvements to mobile coverage in rural areas and we are committed to taking it forward in partnership with other operators, and with the support of Government and Ofcom.”

At this point we haven’t been sent a copy of the alleged announcement, although it would be nice if it went a bit further than supporting the SRN’s plan as that’s already been well publicised and agreed.

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