EE has become the first UK operator mobile operator to reach the milestone of building or upgrading 1,500 remote sites across the UK, as part of the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme.
After years of complaints by mobile consumers and businesses that the major political parties had consistently failed rural firms by lacking a credible plan to improve mobile 4G and 5G coverage, the £1.3bn SRN programme is designed to wipe so-called notspots from the map, providing high-quality 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025.
First proposed in October 2019, the SRN is made possible through a partnership between the UK’s four major telecoms operators – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – which are investing in a shared network of new and existing phone masts, overseen by a jointly owned company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL).
Across the four operators, Northern Ireland will see 4G coverage rise to at least 85% of landmass, Scotland will rise to at least 74%, England will rise to 90%, and Wales will rise to at least 80%.
The four networks’ £532m investment is supplemented by more than £500m in government funding to eliminate total notspots. The coverage commitments are being enforced by UK communications regulator Ofcom.
EE’s 4G network – which, according to the Rootmetrics UK mobile performance review 2H 2022, is the biggest and fastest in the UK – covers more than 99% of the UK population.
The network expansion is said to add more than 2,000 square miles of additional 4G connectivity in rural areas across the UK. The 1,500th site upgrade around Loch Ness in Scotland and nearby villages along the River Moriston represents the largest single SRN upgrade EE has delivered to date, with the enhanced connectivity supporting local people and businesses, as well as those working and visiting the area. These places are home to hundreds of people and a thriving local tourism industry for the Scottish Highlands.
Since going live, areas benefiting from the latest upgrades have downloaded more than 30TB of data, with Carmarthenshire, Wales, and Mount in Warleggan, Cornwall driving demand and underlining the need for upgraded rural mobile coverage.
BT Group chief executive Philip Jansen said: “Today marks a major achievement for the Shared Rural Network, with EE becoming the first operator to bring 4G to a further 1,500 remote locations across the UK. From farming and fishing to hospitality and tourism, Britain’s countryside communities are vital to the success of the wider economy, and BT Group’s huge investment into our mobile network infrastructure is delivering the connectivity boost local people and businesses need.”
Minister for data and digital infrastructure Julia Lopez said: “The improved connectivity being delivered by the Shared Rural Network is transforming countryside communities, boosting productivity and giving people reliable and fast mobile connectivity wherever they live.
“We look forward to continuing to work together with our industry partners to give rural areas the infrastructure they need in the digital age.”