Can't get decent mobile coverage where you are? £5bn not-spot plan could change all that

The UK government will attempt to patch up its mobile black spots via an agreement that will see mobile operators invest £5bn over the next three years.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The UK government has struck a new deal with four of the nation's mobile operators to fix areas blighted by patchy coverage.

EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone have agreed to spend £5bn to improve mobile infrastructure by 2017 under a government plan to reduce so-called 'not spots' - areas where voice and data services are patchy.

The agreement was announced today by culture secretary Sajid Javid, whose original plan to allow customers to roam between UK mobile networks was scuttled after home secretary Theresa May raised concerns the plan could interfere with law enforcement surveillance capabilities.

During negotiations with the industry in November, May reportedly said that the plan "could have a detrimental impact on law enforcement, security and intelligence agency access to communications data and lawful intercept".

Under the current plan, each operator has guaranteed 90 percent geographical coverage for voice and text services by 2017. This would halve the number of areas affected by partial coverage black spots.

All four operators will also increase "full coverage" to 85 percent of the UK's geography by 2017. In addition they've agreed to provide "reliable signal strength" for voice on 2G, 3G, and 4G to remedy the current problem of signals being too poor for customers to make a call.

"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," Javid said in a statement.

"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," he continued.

The new agreement will be enforceable by communications regulator Ofcom via the annual license fees that networks pay the government.

As part of the agreement, the government said it will reform the ageing Electronic Communications Code to make it easier for operators to launch new mobile and broadband services, while opening up government-owned freehold buildings for the placement of mobile infrastructure.

Besides the national roaming plan, other options the government canvassed with the industry included sharing of masts, and allowing mobile virtual network operators such as Tesco and Virgin to offer services based on all four networks rather than single networks.

According to the government, the path chosen will result in a reduction of areas where there is no mobile coverage by two thirds. It will also halve partial not-spots.

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