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EE Complete 500th New 4G Mobile Site for UK Emergency Network

Monday, August 10th, 2020 (1:18 pm) - Score 4,965

Mobile operator EE (BT) has today confirmed that they’ve just completed the build of their 500th new mobile site, located in Glencoe (Scotland), as part of their contract to roll-out a new 4G based Emergency Services Network (ESN). This is on top of the 19,000 existing sites that have already been upgraded for the ESN.

The new Glencoe mast should extend their 4G ESN service to cover 65 square km of the rural Highlands via the 800MHz radio band, which is important since part of the area is known as a tourist hotspot.

NOTE: The ESN has its own separate setup alongside EE’s commercial 4G network. The two should not be confused, but some of the extra masts being built under the ESN could help all operators to grow their mobile coverage (depending upon deals reached).

Elsewhere the operator said they’d also built more than 30 similar sites throughout June-July 2020 alone, which includes 5 sites in England across the Lake District and South Downs National Parks, as well as Devon and Cornwall. A further 5 sites in Wales, including Pembrokeshire, and an additional 18 sites in remote locations across Scotland, such as Cairngorm and Loch Lomond National Parks, have also been completed.

According to Ofcom, EE’s mobile network currently covers 82% of rural geography across the UK and 84% of its landmass (more than any other network). The operator will build another 100+ ESN sites in rural areas over the coming months, which is on top of their plans under the separate £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) deployment with rivals Three UK, Vodafone and O2 (aims to achieve 95% geographic 5G coverage by the end of 2025).

Richard Harrap, EE’s Managing Director of ESN, said:

“With ESN, we are focused on building the coverage where the Emergency Services need it most to ensure they can best protect and serve society. Often this is in rural areas.

We are already well ahead of other operators in delivering rural coverage, but our new site builds and upgrades to existing 4G masts for the ESN has also meant further expanded coverage in rural areas, and improved coverage in hard to reach areas and along key roads such as our 500th site in Glencoe. We’re also welcoming other operators to come in and share these sites to reduce the amount of infrastructure on the ground and increase coverage for everyone.

This is in advance of the UK Government’s Shared Rural Network, which will also help us to reach even more not-spots to ensure that everyone benefits from improved coverage and choice.”

Previously the police, fire and other emergency services all harnessed the Motorola-owned Airwave network, which was based off Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) technology and delivered a geographic reach of c.97% (voice). Unfortunately this was considered too expensive and slow for data connectivity (dialup style speeds), thus in 2015 a decision was taken to replace it with a 4G solution (the UK was the first country to try this).

In theory the ESN, which covers a complicated assortment of suppliers (i.e. not just the network, but also handset developers and software etc.) should have been completed by the end of 2019, but instead it’s suffered numerous delays and is likely to end up costing significantly more than planned (the NAO predicts £9.3bn, which is £3.1bn more than forecast in 2015).

According to the NAO, EE’s side of the network roll-out is not now expected to be sufficient enough in order to completely turn off the old Airwave system until December 2022 (this is the “minimum” forecast delay). However, the Home Office is separately responsible for commissioning 292 masts in areas not covered by the market and only two of those had been completed by March 2019 (i.e. much of the delay comes from other areas).

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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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22 Responses
  1. G Mackay says:

    ‘Lock’ Lomond?

  2. Karl Betts says:

    It’s a shame they can’t fix the one in SE7 of London. When I joined them was getting over 70mb now just getting 2mb and was told it would be a year to fix. And we will just let you off your sim only contract.

    1. Tom says:

      You’re connected to an EE ESN mast?

    2. Buggerlugz says:

      Shocking quality of service.

    3. CarlT says:

      Glad to hear they’ll release you from your contract penalty-free.

    4. Karl Betts says:

      EE ESN mast? Not a clue sorry.

      I don’t want to be released from my contact. All the other providers are worse than EE. I’ve try O2 3uk Vodafone all crap !

    5. Robert says:

      Obviously your situations not an emergency then,is it?.Your not connected to the ESN mast/network,nor should you be.To make it cleaner its for the exclusive use of the emergency services,not you,me or the rest of the general public.

    6. Mike says:


      Tried an antenna?

    7. JitteryPinger says:

      @Karl – Sounds like a demanding area of all operators suffering same issues.

    8. Vince says:


      You’re not the only one – I had similar issues in Devon and EE told me eventually they had no idea if or when they’d ever get things sorted so just refunded me and called it quits.

    9. Stephen Wakeman says:

      @Karl Betts

      How can you have read the article and not know what ESN is?

      Unless of course you didn’t and just thought you’d take the opportunity to pop at EE about your service in a place where you will get no resolution for said problem.

      Sounds about right.

  3. Chris says:

    I think the ESN programme overall is good, because it provides the incentive to bring coverage to places where an incentive previously didn’t exist. There are already many wilderness locations in Scotland that benefit from the new coverage.

    However, the original timeline was clearly far too ambitious, and didn’t fully take into account the complexities of planning in some of the more remote areas.

    The Isle of Rum is a great example of this. This island is obscenely remote, but has a road which must be covered to meet ESN obligations. Option proposed by EE was a completely off-grid mast, with a diesel generator and satellite backhaul, with careful consideration to visual impact. However, on the grounds of community objections, and the fact that its a nature reserve, the application was objected.
    All the docs are here – they make an interesting glimpse into the process:

    I think in places like this, there really is no easy option. A diesel generator powered mast in a natural wilderness area, in my mind, is a bit inappropriate. But the roads (tracks really) are sheltered by mountains on all sides – there isn’t really anywhere else to build the mast.

    This is just one well documented example, but I know complexities like this exist all across the country

    1. Mark says:

      Have not read link so if covered there sorry, but could they not have had solar + wind turbine with battery storage to power the mast?

    2. Buggerlugz says:

      I thought the same. You’d think Tesla could help with their solar/battery options available.

    3. JitteryPinger says:

      Tesla isn’t exactly a reliable company to work with due to lack of parts available.

      Something goes wrong and then a replacement battery can’t be sourced for instance.

  4. Mark says:

    Had no idea a ESN mast could be stopped, a need for planning process to be overhauled. Maybe like the railways and their network. Reminds me the nimbys in my town, who still want to live in the 1970s.

    1. Ethel Prunehat says:

      I’m sure if the ESN decided they needed to build a mast right in front of your house, you would appreciate their obligation to have planning permission.

    2. Michael V says:

      I don’t think any mast site should be able to get blocked where any of the Operators want to introduce coverage. Councils have too much say.
      An ESN mast Should certainly not get blocked. Many complain that they have poor signal or mobile network performance but yet object to an Operator improving their networks.

      I’d welcome a mast in my street. Indoor coverage in my village is poor from all networks & I’m just 5 mins outside & around the corner from a city.

    3. Chris says:

      I agree with you to an extent – it shouldn’t be too easy to block masts. The fact that the ESN programme has been able to install 500 new masts suggests that not that many are getting blocked.
      There are always going to be edge cases where more careful consideration is required. I think the Isle of Rum, and other similar nature reserves are a good example

    4. Michael V says:

      @Chris… Yes, I do agree. some places need careful consideration, that’s where small cells come in that all Operators should have but they’re not really deployed as much as they should be.

  5. Mark says:

    Ethel Prunehat Yes we do have a radio mast 20 meters away, not concerned at all, And let’s face it that was in the middle of nowhere.

  6. Sam says:

    I wish there were bigger penalties for people burning phone masts and social media influencers who support such claims. 700MHZ airwave auction in UK will also help as its range is more than 800MHZ currently used for 5G.

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