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O2 Study Predicts £187.7m 4G Boost for Rural UK Businesses

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021 (9:51 am) - Score 1,776
mobile mast rural broadband uk

A new study commissioned by O2 UK has predicted that the first phase of the new £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) project with Vodafone and Three UK, which will see all three mobile operators working to build and share 222 new 4G (mobile broadband) masts (here), could increase the turnover for rural businesses by £187.7m per annum.

As part of the first phase of the SRN project O2, Three UK and Vodafone have agreed to team-up in order to build and share 222 (tentative) new UK mobile masts in order to help resolve partial not-spots (i.e. areas where only one operator is available), including 124 new sites in Scotland, 33 in Wales, 11 in Northern Ireland, and 54 in England. The construction phase for these will begin this year, but it will take until 2024 before they’re all done.

NOTE: The SRN will result in every mobile operator reaching “at least” 90% of UK’s landmass with a 4G service, which should produce aggregate coverage of 95% by 2026.

According to O2, this first phase alone will raise the proportion of the UK with access to 4G networks from 67% to 84%. In assessing the impact of this O2 commissioned Development Economics to model the benefits for rural businesses and individuals.

The new report found that, once the first phase of the rollout has been completed, rural businesses situated near new mobile mast sites could benefit from an annual increase in turnover of £187.7m. Access to the SRN for individuals and businesses will also allow these rural communities to contribute an extra £58.9m to the UK economy (GDP) each year.

When broken up into regions, the report noted that the largest share – around 28% – of the gains in business turnover and productivity are expected to occur in rural Scotland, valued at £79m in additional business turnover and a £24.1m added contribution to the UK economy. This is followed by Northern Ireland, which will see 16% of the predicted net gains, South West England with around 15%, Wales with 14% and the North West of England with around 8%.

Sector Additional turnover (£m) Additional GVA (£m)
Land-based industry 3.7 1.3
Utilities 9.4 1.7
Manufacturing 13.0 3.0
Construction 8.3 2.6
Distribution, hotels & catering 78.8 19.4
Transport & communications 32.4 13.1
Professional & business services 18.4 12.4
Education, health etc. 4.9 3.7
Other services 18.7 1.7
Total 187.7 58.9

The report also revealed that 42% of the projected increase in turnover will benefit those in the struggling hospitality sector, covering rural distribution, hotels and catering businesses, which are in line for a £78.8m boost to revenues. The other sectors that account for the largest shares of the increase in turnover are expected to be transport and communications (17% of the predicted revenue increase) and professional, financial, property and business services (10% of the increase).

Derek McManus, COO at O2, said:

“Alongside our own continued investment in 4G, we’re delighted to be progressing with the first phase of the Shared Rural Network initiative and supporting rural Britain. The last year proved that reliable mobile connectivity has been essential for keeping us all connected to our loved ones and keeping businesses across the UK up and running – and 2021 is set to be no different.

Our latest research shows that mobile has the power to make a real, positive difference to people in rural communities and demonstrates the difference we can make when operators, the Government and Ofcom work together to achieve a shared objective.”

We should point out that it remains extremely difficult to accurately assess the economic benefits of improved mobile connectivity, particularly in areas like partial not-spots, where an existing service may already exist from a single operator. Otherwise, the SRN aims to provide guaranteed coverage to 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads and boost ‘in car’ coverage on around 45,000 km of road and better indoor coverage in around 1.2m business premises and homes.

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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.
Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. Avatar Gigabit says:

    Any ideas about where these masts will be?

    1. Avatar Name says:

      Rural areas, for example a new mast for 50 people already having FTTH at home.

  2. Avatar The Facts says:

    Link to survey please. How will they measure?

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Sadly they didn’t provide a link.

  3. Avatar Andy Allenton says:

    Improving 4G coverage??? As one of the wealthiest nations I feel we’ve set our sights too low. 4G should cover rge entire country by now, with 5G being the de facto standard for new locations.

    1. Avatar Mark says:

      Will never cover entire country, still areas where its not possible due to cost or people object to masts.

    2. Avatar What says:

      @Andy Allenton

      “As one of the wealthiest nations”

      This is the problem, people like you believe we are and this causes others to spend beyond their means. The UK debt is one of the highest in the world, the last time I checked I think the UK were number 3

  4. Avatar Gary says:

    OK so I know nothing at all about how these numbers are ‘imagined’. How does improved connectivity generate these gains in business turnover?

    My area is rural, mainly crops to feed the whisky malt supply, and general farming sheep, cows etc, how does having 4g result in increased turnover in rural Scotland, bearing in mind ‘Rural’ covers 98% of the land mass, but only 17% of the population.

  5. Avatar Mark says:

    Guaranteed coverage! I thought by the nature of mobile technology, nothing is guaranteed. Its really only a prediction at the end of the day, which can be very inaccurate.

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