Mobile phone signal coverage was highlighted at our 2014 and 2016 Rural Parliaments, where it was the top priority for communities alongside broadband.
The award of the mobile airwaves in the 700 MHz band now presents the best opportunity to obligate providers to improve coverage.
The UK Government should obligate the winner to provide 100% 4G coverage, starting with rural areas and including outdoor spaces (not just premises).
The state of mobile phone signal
Figures sourced from the Connected Nations 2017 report.
- Rural Scotland has been left behind, with urban Scotland and rural England both receiving much better mobile phone coverage.
- People can make outdoor calls from 70% of the UK, but only in 40% of Scotland. This is a major discrepancy in coverage.
- People can make calls on all four major networks in 90% of premises across the UK, but only in 57% of premises in rural areas.
- In rural areas, 17% of homes have poor connections, compared with 2% in towns and cities.
Mobile Infrastructure Project
The Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) was commissioned in 2010 and was allocated £150million by the UK Government to deliver mobile phone signal to rural areas where there was no signal. There was a target of 600 new sites that would result in 99% coverage by 2015 set.
The MIP delivered 2G, 3G and 4G mobile connectivity through 75 mobile masts to 7,199 premises by 2017 – the original goal was 600 masts by 2013. However, it got much quicker towards the end (2 masts by 2015; 75 by 2017) as they learnt, and cost less per mast than anticipated. The UK Government still pulled the funding in 2017.
- Ofcom set mobile operators a target of 90% 2G coverage by the end of 2017, which is progressing well.
- All four major mobile operators have committed legally to extend at least voice and text services to 90% of the UK land mass. This was to avoid a roaming network which would have allowed mobile users to automatically use the best service available at the time – as we can do across Europe.
- O2 is also required to deliver indoor 4G coverage to 98% of premises in the UK by the end of 2017 as per the terms of its 800MHz spectrum licence and this is also progressing well, with other providers trying to match this commitment from O2.
- Operators also state that reform of the Electronic Communication Code (ECC) is needed, whereby they could automatically upgrade masts if the UK to 4G signal.