Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) has revealed it has delivered 4G mobile connectivity across 50 sites as part of the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme, providing residents, businesses and visitors in rural communities with faster and more reliable mobile coverage than ever before.
The upgrade is part of the Shared Rural Network (SRN), a £1.3bn project with the UK’s four mobile network operators (MNOs) – EE, VMO2, Three and Vodafone – to improve 4G coverage and level-up connectivity across the UK.
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 SRN programme is designed to wipe so-called notspots from the map, providing high-quality 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025.
The four major telecoms operators are investing in a shared network of new and existing phone masts, overseen by a jointly owned company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL), and their £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.
The principle of the project is that through both public and private investment, the SRN is seeing new and existing phone masts built or upgraded across the UK to close down rural mobile notspots. These are areas of poor or patchy coverage that cannot receive a 4G signal from all four MNOs, or any signal at all, which holds back rural communities from experiencing the full benefits of digital.
VMO2 has brought up its SRN half-century at Helmsdale, a village in the Scottish Highlands, after upgrading an existing mast in the area. Of the 50 rural sites that have been built or upgraded so far, 39 are in remote parts of Scotland – including 10 in the Argyll and Bute region, while further connectivity improvements have been delivered in Aberdeenshire, the Scottish Borders, the Hebrides, the Highlands, Stirling, Fife, Dumfries, East Lothian, and Perth and Kinross. In addition, 11 are located in eastern parts of England, including rural parts of Yorkshire, Suffolk and Kent.
The upgrades are said to have delivered faster and more reliable data speeds and higher-quality voice calls in areas with previously patchy or slow services.
In addition to the 50 sites that are now live, Virgin Media O2 has secured planning consent for works at a further 100 sites, meaning work can start in the near future.
“We are investing heavily in our network to ensure we’re offering fast and reliable mobile coverage to customers in all parts of the UK,” said Virgin Media O2 chief technology officer Jeanie York. “We know many rural communities are unable to access the same level of connectivity as urban areas, so we’re committed to delivering improvements through the Shared Rural Network programme.
“Boosting connectivity at 50 sites is a real milestone, and means more residents, businesses and tourists in rural areas can benefit from better mobile coverage. In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll continue pushing forward with our rural investments, building new masts and upgrading existing ones across various remote UK locations as we work to tackle the urban-rural digital divide.”
MP and MSP Douglas Ross said: “Representing rural and remote communities across Moray and the Highlands and Islands means I am acutely aware of how important improvements in mobile connectivity are for people and businesses in our area.
“It is welcome to see that Virgin Media O2 have now rolled out this better coverage across so many sites in areas I represent both as an MP and MSP,” he said. “In particular, I am delighted that Buckie is one of the areas now benefitting from these new networks. This will help to support local businesses as well as residents frustrated with poor mobile signal. I am committed to continuing to push for further boosts in mobile and broadband connectivity throughout our rural and remote communities.”