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

Published Thursday, September 22, 2016

This House of Commons Library Briefing Paper summarises Government and industry proposals to extend mobile coverage across the UK. 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.

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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.

93% of UK adults use mobile phones and 14% 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.

Tackling not-spots

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 75 masts completed by the time the project closed at the end of the 2015-16 financial year. This is slightly over one-tenth of the 600 potential sites identified in the original plan.

Tackling partial not-spots

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. Licence variations required to make the coverage targets binding on mobile operators were agreed between the mobile operators and Ofcom in February 2015.

Planning changes and Electronic Communications Code reform

The Government has said it will introduce planning changes that allow for taller masts, up to 25 metres in non-protected areas, to be built without the need to apply for planning permission. Reforms to the Electronic Communications Code, which governs the placing of masts on private land, are included in the Digital Economy Bill, which had its second reading in the House of Commons on 13 September 2016.

Commons Briefing papers SN07069

Author: Daniel Rathbone

Topics: Information technology, Telecommunications

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