O2 is to build or upgrade 1,500 base-station sites across the UK by the end of next year in order to boost its 3G coverage, the mobile operator said on Wednesday.
According to a statement from O2, the investment is intended to "build significant headroom for mobile data". The company will spend hundreds of millions of pounds on the rollout, it said.
An O2 spokeswoman told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that not all the sites would be entirely new — some will be existing 2G sites that are being upgraded to 3G. She could not, however, detail what proportion of the 1,500 sites involved in Wednesday's announcements would be entirely new mast sites for O2.
According to O2, the operator will "deliver" 200 sites in London over the next year, with 40 going live by Christmas 2009.
The news of O2's investment came as rival network Orange welcomed the results of a YouGov survey, which said Orange has the best mobile broadband in the UK in terms of overall quality and value for money.
O2 currently has the least 3G coverage in the UK, at just 84 percent — a level it achieved after Ofcom threatened it with a fine for not fulfilling the coverage requirements of its 3G licence. Orange and 3 have the widest coverage.
"In the past 12 months the mobile industry has seen an unprecedented change in demand," O2 chief technology officer Derek McManus said in the company's statement. "The introduction of world-class devices, in combination with a wide variety of data applications, has brought about a dramatic change in customer behaviour and created an exponential demand on mobile data networks."
McManus said that watching a YouTube video on a smartphone can use the same amount of network capacity as sending half a million text messages simultaneously. "We are now aggressively accelerating our network growth programme to ensure we have significant headroom for the future and retain our focus on being number one for customer satisfaction," he added.
O2's mobile broadband coverage should also be boosted by a mast-sharing agreement with Vodafone, signed in March this year.