As expected Ofcom has started to put the recent coverage agreement between Mobile Network Operators (MNO) and the Government into practice by introducing a new licence variation(s) that commits Three UK, EE, O2 and Vodafone to provide voice coverage across 90% of the United Kingdom’s landmass by the end of 2017.
The new agreement, which was reached just before Christmas (details), included among other things a pledge to extend geographic mobile network coverage (voice and text) of the United Kingdom from 80% today to 90% by 2017. On top of that mobile data coverage (3G and 4G [Mobile Broadband]) will be extended to 85% (currently 69%).
Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, said:
“For far too long, too many parts of the UK have regularly suffered from poor mobile coverage leaving them unable to make calls or send texts. Now at last we have progress that will give the UK the world-class mobile phone coverage it needs and deserves.
The deal will also bring £5bn investment by the mobile networks into the UK’s infrastructure, which will help drive this Government’s long-term economic plan.”
It’s important to reflect that landmass / geographic coverage is a much harder pledge to meet than the usual population / premises coverage commitments, which is what operators typically tout (see below), because fewer people live in rural areas (the urban statistical bias has a big impact) and yet rural areas make up most of the UK’s landmass.
All of the primary mobile providers currently meet the existing 3G mobile coverage obligation to reach 90% of UK premises / population, while EE, Three UK and Vodafone have indicated that they intend to match O2’s 98% indoor coverage obligation for 4G by the end of this year.
Today’s new licence variations (PDF) impact the 900MHz and 1800MHz radio spectrum bands, although the actual commitment also appears to include 2100MHz and 800MHz.
The Licensee shall by no later than 31 December 2017 provide and thereafter maintain an electronic communications network that is capable of providing mobile voice telecommunications services to an area covering at least 90% of the geographic landmass of the United Kingdom at at least one of the minimum signal strengths set out in Table 1 of this condition. For the avoidance of doubt the Licensee shall be permitted to meet the obligation set out in this condition using any frequencies and technologies available to the Licensee.
Technology and Band (Minimum Signal Threshold)
GSM900 (-93 dBm)
GSM1800 (-93 dBm)
UMTS2100 (-103 dBm)
LTE800 (-115 dBm)
As part of the agreement the mobile operators had wanted Ofcom to reduce their proposed licence fee hike (applicable to the 900MHz and 1800MHz radio spectrum bands). The regulator has not said precisely what they intend to do yet, but today’s update does confirm that they will “shortly” consult on this issue. The regulator also plans to publish a new Mobile Broadband speeds study during the spring.
It should be noted that the figure of £5bn isn’t broken down and appears to reflect some of the existing commercial spend through the current 4G deployment etc.