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BT Defends Cost Proposals for Sharing Rural UK Mobile Sites

Saturday, January 18th, 2020 (7:32 am) - Score 3,728

Last year’s £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) agreement between BT (EE), Vodafone, Three UK and O2, which will see the operators working together in order to extend geographic 4G mobile (mobile broadband) coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025, was just the start of what could be a tricky period of implementation.

Catering for remote rural areas is very expensive and there have been huge disagreements in the past over how to achieve the desired outcome. For example one old option, the idea of so-called Rural Roaming, was rejected by EE because they viewed it as giving a free ride to rivals that haven’t made the same investment (excluding ESN masts as those can be shared), not to mention stifling the attraction of future investments.

At present EE has a fair bit more infrastructure (masts etc.) deployed across rural areas than most of their rivals, although it should be said that there are also plenty of areas where rivals can reach but EE are still weak or non-existent (it’s a two-way street when it comes to cooperation).

The SRN agreement is thus an industry-led way of resolving this, which essentially proposes both the reciprocal sharing of existing masts in certain areas and the demand-led building and sharing of new masts in others. However some key details of the SRN are still being decided, such as the question of how much will be charged by each operator for rivals to access existing sites.

This week BT issued an important document on their own cost proposal for sharing sites (masts etc.), which outlines the “reciprocal costs we feel should be paid to get access to one another’s sites.” The big question will be whether or not their rivals agree with this proposal (due to the weekend we haven’t been able to get their feedback). BT’s Consumer CEO, Marc Allera, even issued a press release on all this, which seemed to adopt a defensive tone.

BT’s CEO Statement on SRN Cost Proposals

Over the past seven-and-a-bit years, EE has invested in getting 4G coverage to significantly more places than any other network, driven by our belief that our customers should be able to connect wherever they go. This has meant we’ve built more sites than any other operator. And, as Ofcom’s recent Connected Nations report demonstrates, there’s many places where we’re the only provider of 4G coverage. We expect many of these sites to form the basis of the share program, helping the other providers to fill holes in their networks to keep people connected.

This week, we’ve submitted an important document into the final part of the process – the cost proposal for sharing sites. This document clearly outlines the reciprocal costs we feel should be paid to get access to one another’s sites.

It’s based upon the inherent value of these mobile sites today, and the investment made to get that site up, built and working – as well as the time and effort to get planning permission and reach agreement with the landowners – to create the mobile coverage these areas so desperately need. All of which is harder to do, and more expensive, because of the challenges of building in rural areas.

We think it’s fair and reasonable that this investment and the current value of the site are both taken into account, and need to be recognised when others come to ‘share’ it. Of course, this goes both ways and should ensure that the fair approach to rural coverage that the SRN was designed to introduce is maintained.

Finding an analogy here is tricky because this is complex, but I sometimes think of it like Sainsbury’s building a new superstore in a rural area and being made to give away shelf space to Tesco, Lidl and Asda.

We should point out that the SRN proposal will actually see each individual operator reach 92% geographic coverage by 2025, with licence obligations taking effect in 2026. However the collective effect of this is that it will deliver coverage to 95% of the UK.

The “new” Government under PM Boris Johnson has previously pledged to complete the SRN deal within its first 100 days, although this will very much depend upon all sides being able to reach agreement on the key details, such as costs (historically mobile operators love to quarrel). For its part BT has said such a time-scale is “pacy, but we now feel all enablers are there.” No doubt they’ll all blame each other if it doesn’t pan out that way.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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19 Responses
  1. Avatar chris conder

    Of course the initial bduk funding helped bt reach a lot of locations with the excuse they were helping villages get fttc. So any mast in those areas should be shared.

    • Avatar Hmm

      Urmmm no. When take up is good (which regular articles say it is) the money is returned to the LB. BDUK/DCMS always knew that the spines and fibre networks would be pushed deeper into the network but they were never to be given public ownership or used for other networks are freebies. The BDUK funded work has likely driven down the cost of ethernet delivery in the rural areas but this is for all providers (and probably will for other BDUK network providers such as Gigaclear).

      Take your pointless statements elsewhere. Starting to bore everyone on this site.

    • Avatar Auditman

      Spot on Chris Conder. Lets not forget EE have also been incentivised to rollout mobile services by the now several £bn by the ESN programme.

      As for the comment by “Hmm” – “the money is returned to the LB” that may be true if the LB do its sums right on exactly what is owed (and not take BT’s opinion), but that money will likely end up back in BT’s hands in any case, would be good to know how much in % terms v others.

    • Avatar CarlT

      BT announced acquisition of EE in 2015. Substantially after BDUK began.

      This is way past embarrassing now.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @CC

      Your point would, as CarlT says, make some sense if EE has been owned by BT in BDUK days.

      It wasn’t so your point makes zero sense as EE would have been buying the ethernet connections from BT Technology (or its predecessors and I way have got the division wrong).

      Tardis logic doesn’t help the general case.

      I’ve got a lot of time for the elbow grease that B4RN have put in – please don’t degrade the perception with these kind of pointless pot shots.

    • Avatar CarlT

      BT Technology is strictly internal Mr Builder. Provides the network powering the services that BT Wholesale and BT Global sell.

      So point accurate, just slightly wrong division.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Incidentally Ms Conder EE have to pay their supplying units within BT Group for the Ethernet products the same as everyone else.

      There seems to be this bizarre perception that BT Enterprise, Consumer and Global get access to the goodies for free. They don’t.

      BT Consumer weren’t seriously looking at LLU to bypass Wholesale for fun a while back.

      You clearly aren’t aware of this but these barriers are at the extent where there are very few within BT Group that get to straddle the walls between Openreach and the rest. These folks don’t work for Wholesale, Consumer, Enterprise or Global, they work for the internal corporate units.

      Consumer and Enterprise buy from Wholesale. Wholesale buy from Openreach. The Wholesale network is facilitated by Technology. The price lists providing the basis for the transactions between the customer facing retail businesses, Wholesale and Openreach are publicly available.

    • Avatar Hmm

      @Auditman ESN network has to be shared with other providers that was a stipulation of the contract so irrelevant. Ref BDUK funds, BT group have to evidence every penny of the spend, and it’s up to the local authorities if they reinvest the gain share funds not BT or Openreach. Both yours and CC points are incorrect.

  2. Avatar 5G_Infinity

    2 comments

    1. Sainsbury’s building a new superstore in a rural area and being made to give away shelf space to Tesco, Lidl and Asda. – Yes it’s called the village shop and it works very well, Marc

    2. BDUK build out for FTTC is of no use for towers, likewise FTTP is of no use for monopoles – each needs Deep Fibre which is rings plus spine (hub and spoke) to each tower or BTS.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Not even remotely close to an accurate analogy. That’s far closer to an MVNO reselling EE than mast sharing.

  3. Avatar Pezza

    It’s pathetic and petty that they only plan to reach their target in 5 years! 4G has been around for a while now, I appreciate BT and EE’s investment into rural areas, however they and their MVNO’s are amongst the most expensive mobile contracts or charges on the market, plus of course EE likes to increase costs mid contract every year.
    So this attitude from them does come across as it a bit monopolistic in my view, I only hope a deal can be agreed on soon.

    Due to the signal debacle I’ve been considering Asda PAYG, it’s better value then EE’s offerings and still uses their network, has anyone had any experience with them at all? I’m currently with Smarty but the signal is a bit patchy.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      When comparing 4G service one has to look into the detail of each plan and of course individual masts vary in their capacity/band. ASDA offer “4G speeds up to 60mbps for downloads and up to 30mbps for uploads” which equates to EE essential plans, their higher plans are theoretically faster even in rural. PAYG and monthly are also different beasts. The complexity in the market means that on any given day the best plan on offer is very personal to our usage pattern.
      e.g I currently have an EE SIM in my iPhone and a THREE router (use WIFI Calling) in my van which appears to work well to cover coverage and the plans do not need to be excessive.
      Keep to SIMs only, lock down billing and swap them to match usage and reappraise at contract. Use the market complexity to your advantage.

      BT is right to emphasise that others should use pay (as do ASDA) to use their investment. However they also know that if they cannot reach amicable agreement on SRN then regulation looms and they may have another Openreach. So both sides need SRN to work. ASDA obviously pay for the whole service whereas here BT just need to quantify usage on certain masts. However it would be good if this is also reciprocal as EE despite their name aren’t everywhere and EE black holes are found in the most unexpected places.

      What ever the outcome we still need to ensure Vodafone, O2 and THREE continue to invest either individually or in collaboration and not let them off the rural coverage obligation easily.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      FYI. Smarty uses THREE and is owned by THREE.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      As we are on the topic of Rural and possibly indoor reception, providers like ASDA and Smarty do not support WIFI calling.

    • Avatar Pezza

      Thank you for the replies, I certainly agree with using the market to your advantage, I’m not fussed about WiFi calling unless I can’t get reception, I don’t make many phone calls, I use data, Smarty are bringing WiFi calling to their service at some point.

      Looking at it I’d probably go with EE themselves as they have an app so you can more easily monitor your usage, Smarty have a great website to do this with, not so sure about Asda, also with Asda they seem to be relying a lot in your calling them as opposed to offering services via a website or app.

      I have an iPhone XR and 6S, I have a PAYG EE Sim and walking the dog and in the house it’s clear that the EE signal is much stronger and more consistent and in 4G, as opposed to the 3 signal on Smarty which is almost constantly on 3G and fluctuates so I presume uses more battery life? But Smarty still works and you can use the phone, however it can drop out at the odd moment.

      At home I just use WiFi anyway.

      I’ll need to have a think. If only EE offered better value hmm. I mean I’ve just changed to the new £10 a month Smarty plan with unlimited text and calls and 30GB of data a month! Way more then I need but I can use around 8 to 10GB a month.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      What works best for you personally is the best plan. However like most things they make money from selling us what we either do not need or ever likely to use.

  4. Avatar Chris

    “At present EE has a fair bit more infrastructure (masts etc.) deployed across rural areas than most of their rivals”

    It’s worth mentioning that EE has only been able to do this because of the ESN deal with the government

    • Avatar CarlT

      Not really. Any masts built outside of commercial deployment are being commissioned by the Home Office, not EE.

      Up to the Home Office who gets to put their kit on them, not EE as I understand it.

      Last time I checked there were very few of them.

  5. Avatar Mark

    Is anything going to be done to stop planning authorites and nimbys objected in the area where it’s really needed? Amy legislation being put forward to stop their spanner in the works approach, otherwise were just going round in circles.

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