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Rural Landowners Seek 95% Geographic UK 4G Mobile Cover by 2022

Thursday, February 1st, 2018 (10:59 am) - Score 887

The Country Land and Business Association, which represents 30000 landowners (farmers and rural businesses) in England and Wales, has called on Ofcom to introduce a binding coverage obligation that would force Mobile operators to deliver 95% UK geographic coverage on all networks by 2022.

As part of its demand, the CLA has used Ofcom’s data to claim that in 14 rural local authority areas in England, four out of five households do not receive 4G mobile coverage from all the big four mobile providers. The ten Local Authority (LA) areas with the lowest rates of indoor 4G coverage in England are all said to be given the most rural Government classification of “Mainly Rural“, and have indoor 4G coverage of less than 15%.

The Worst LA Areas in England for Indoor 4G Coverage
1. Rutland – 3.42%
2. Ribble Valley – 6.37%
3. Maldon – 8.63%
4. South Norfolk – 10.64%
5. Breckland – 11.22%
6. Melton – 13.76%
7. Copeland – 14.13%
8. North Norfolk – 14.18%
9. North Dorset – 14.24%
10. Mid Devon – 14.25%
11. Richmondshire – 14.86%
12. Barrow-in-Furness – 15.79% (Classified as ‘Urban with Significant Rural’, all others in bottom 15 are ‘Mainly Rural’ or ‘Largely Rural’)
13. Staffordshire – 16.14%
14. Eden – 17.87%
15. North Devon – 19.11%

In response the CLA wants Ofcom to “force reluctant mobile network operators” to improve coverage in rural areas by imposing a “legally binding” coverage target on their operating licences. Since such an obligation would be a factor that could affect the value of such licences then we suspect that this may only be viable for future auctions, rather than existing spectrum where weaker obligations still exist.

CLA President, Tim Breitmeyer, said:

“These figures lay bare the extent to which those living and working in rural areas are cast out into the digital wilderness. It also poses serious questions about what commitment, if any, the mobile operators have to delivering coverage in rural areas. Delivering this mobile coverage is vital to boosting the economy, providing safety and improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

People living and working in rural areas are missing out on the opportunities that we take for granted in towns and cities to improve the productivity of their businesses, to attract new businesses into their communities, to make emergency calls, and to have the same instant access to social and educational resources. This inequality is simply not good enough.

For years the mobile companies have promised to improve rural coverage. They have extracted public money, sweeping changes in the law and a range of other concessions on the back of these promises. They are not being held to account when they don’t deliver. It is time to impose a legally binding target to cover 95% of the UK with 4G by 2022.”

At this point it’s worth noting that EE’s geographic (landmass) 4G network coverage of the UK is already claimed to be over 86% and they aim to reach 95% by the end of December 2020. However Ofcom’s own data recently suggested that outdoor geographic 4G coverage is actually just a pitiful 43% (here). This shows just how difficult it is to measure highly variable environments like Mobile connectivity.

Another problem is that most of the future Mobile-friendly spectrum, which is coming up for auction, sits in higher frequency bands (3.4GHz etc.) and would not be best suited for a coverage obligation. On the other hand Ofcom did state last year that they would consult on adding such an obligation to the future 700MHz band, which could be much friendlier to rural coverage.

In reality we suspect it may be difficult for Ofcom to apply such an obligation to every single operator and indeed doing so might discourage some operators from bidding in the first place. Meanwhile we shouldn’t forget that the CLA also holds a significant amount of responsibility in this area.

On the one hand the CLA frequently seem to act as consumer champions for the pursuit of better connectivity, yet their remit is also to protect the very land that allows such connectivity to be deployed. The CLA could perhaps help by encouraging landowners to be more accepting of telecoms infrastructure on their land, even if that means lower revenue from rentals under the new ECC system.

Leave a Comment
12 Responses
  1. Jonny says:

    The representatives of country landowners want a law that results in mobile operators being forced to rent land off their members?

  2. Chris says:

    There’s been a significant improvement to rural coverage over the last 12 months and the big operators aren’t done yet.
    O2 already has a coverage obligation, and given they have an infrastructure share with Vodafone both operators will meet this obligation. EE has obligations through its ESN contract.
    There’s no reluctancy – there’s clearly been more effort in rural coverage with 4G than there ever was with 3G. 4G coverage now exceeds what 3G was previously on the three largest networks.
    Mobile network planning has a long lead time – reactionary complaints like this are completely out of touch with the reality. And besides, one of the biggest constraints on rural coverage is nimbys blocking planning applications!

  3. New_Londoner says:

    Perhaps Tim Breitmeyer could focus his attention on the dinosaurs amongst his members that want to charge mobile operators ridiculous sums of money for the privilege of installing equipment that in turn increases the value of his members’ land. This wealthy, privileged elite is holding mobile operators and those living in rural areas to ransom, need to be held to account.

  4. Steve Jones says:

    The irony of a group representing land owners demanding increased mobile phione coverage whilst simultaneously trying to maintain high rents for the required equipment and lines installed on their land.

    1. Optimist says:

      The CLA are no fools. They will benefit from the rents the telcos will be obliged to pay them.

  5. Davek says:

    Why can we have hundreds of wind turbines in Cornwall but can’t have a Mobile mast?

  6. NGA for all says:

    Ofcom are due to report on the 02 coverage obligation of 98% (95% by nation) of premises – 2mbps indoors. This was supposed to be met by the end of 2017, not 2022.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      That is of course population coverage, not geographic. Since Vodafone are already at 98% then I suspect O2 will be the same.

    2. NGA for all says:

      Mark is that a study or company PR. If a study can you provide a reference. It would be good to see what they are measuring, signal or measured service.

  7. gerarda says:

    According to Virgin their 4g coverage is 99% of the population. A remarkable achievement considering they use EEs network which has only 75% coverage.

    1. New_Londoner says:

      @Gerarda
      Not really – EE’s geographic coverage is currently 90% of landmass, 99% of population. Your 75% figure is out of date as I’m pretty sure that all of the UK mobile networks have over 75% population coverage.

    2. gerarda says:

      Virgin is advertising 4g coverage not overall coverage.

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