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Mobile Coverage in the UK: Government plans to tackle ‘mobile not-spots’

Published Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mobile 'not-spots' and 'partial not-spots' - areas where there is currently no mobile coverage and areas which have coverage from some but not all of the 4 mobile networks - currently affect parts of the UK, particularly rural areas. This note summarises Government and industry proposals to extend mobile coverage across the UK.

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The Government has identified two issues with mobile coverage in the UK: ‘not-spots’ – areas where there is currently no coverage available; and ‘partial not-spots – areas which have coverage from some but not all of the four mobile networks.

95% of UK households use mobile phones and 16% have no voice landline at all, whilst 71% of businesses rated mobile phones as crucial or very important to their business. Currently, more than 99% of premises are covered outdoors by at least one Mobile Network Operator (MNOs) and 93% are covered by all three of the MNOs that operate 2G networks. For 3G services, 88% of UK premises are covered outdoors by all four MNOs and 46% of premises have coverage for 4G from all MNOs.

To tackle ‘mobile not-spots’ the Government provided up to £150 million to improve mobile coverage in areas where there is currently no coverage from any of the Mobile Network Operators through its Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP). However the project has faced a number of challenges with around 60 masts expected to be completed by the time the project closes at the end of the 2015-16 financial year. This is one-tenth of the 600 potential sites identified in the original plan.

To tackle ‘partial not-spots’ the Government launched a consultation, which ran from 5 November - 26 November 2014 on a suite of various legislative options to improve mobile coverage in areas which have coverage from some but not all of the four mobile networks, including: National roaming; infrastructure sharing; reforming virtual networks; and coverage obligations (further details of each is provided below). Mobile operators were involved in the preliminary stages of the consultation scoping process and expressed their opposition to national roaming as the proposed solution.

On 18 December 2014, the Government announced that it had abandoned its plans for national roaming in favour of a new legally binding agreement by mobile operators: to invest a guaranteed £5bn to improve mobile infrastructure by 2017; and to guarantee voice and text coverage from each operator across 90% of the UK geographic area by 2017.

Commons Briefing papers SN07069

Authors: Daniel Rathbone; David Hirst

Topics: Information technology, Telecommunications

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