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EE Complete First Phase of Shared UK Rural 4G Mobile Upgrade

Tuesday, Jan 16th, 2024 (10:21 am) - Score 3,760

Broadband ISP and mobile operator EE (BT) has today announced that they’ve completed – six months ahead of schedule – the first phase of their roll-out under the £1bn industry-led Shared Rural Network (SRN) project, which aims to extend geographic 4G (mobile broadband) coverage (aggregate) to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025.

The SRN – supported by £500m of public funding and £532m from operators – is a scheme that involves both the reciprocal sharing of existing masts in certain areas and the demand-led building and sharing of new masts in others between the operators (MNO). But the 95% target is only when service is available from at least one operator, while the UK coverage forecast for SRN completion for all operators is actually just 84% for the same date (i.e. geographic areas where you’ll be able to take 4G from all providers).

NOTE: The target varies between regions, thus 4G cover from at least one operator is expected to reach 98% in England, 91% in Scotland, 95% in Wales and 98% in N.Ireland. But this falls to 90% in England, 74% in Scotland, 80% in Wales and 85% in N.Ireland when looking at coverage from all MNOs combined.

The programme actually consists of several targets for mobile operators to meet on the way to achieving this goal. One of the first of those reflects the deadline for delivery of industry funded coverage improvements in “partial not-spot areas“ (i.e. areas which receive coverage from at least one operator, but not all), which needs to be achieved by June 2024 (at this point 4G must cover 88% of the UK’s landmass). After that, Ofcom has also set a deadline for improvements in “total not-spot areas” of early 2027, so the SRN doesn’t actually end next year, as some people may assume.

In that sense, EE’s announcement today relates to their own commitment as part of tackling those partial not-spot areas. The operator states that this means they’ve now expanded their 4G mobile network to over 1,600 more communities across every region of the UK under the SRN, completing their 4G coverage upgrades under the first phase of the programme “six months ahead of schedule.”

Following its SRN upgrades, EE states that their 4G geographic coverage in each individual nation now stands at: England (94%), Northern Ireland (89%), Scotland (77%), and Wales (86%). The extensive upgrades delivered under the programme have, in part, enabled EE to expand 4G for its customers across the UK by a further 10,000 square kilometres over the last 5 years (i.e. a size 26 times greater than the Isle of Wight).

Greg McCall, Chief Networks Officer, said:

“Today is another major milestone in our ongoing work to help close the UK’s digital divide. From farmers in Northern Ireland and local businesses in the Scottish Highlands, to tourists in the Lake District or Eryri National Park, EE is delivering the reliable mobile connectivity Britain’s rural communities need.

Even though we have met our Shared Rural Network commitments months ahead of time, we will continue to focus on enhancing mobile connectivity in areas without any existing coverage to ensure everyone – residents, tourists, local businesses and the emergency services – have the connectivity they need to thrive in the years ahead.”

In fairness, EE went into the SRN with the strongest geographic 4G coverage of any UK mobile operator, and as such it’s not a huge surprise to see them become the first to complete Phase 1 of the project. But achieving that target half a year ahead of schedule is still impressive, particularly when we contrast that with the problems that other operators have been having.

Some reports last year claimed that Three UK, O2 (VMO2) and Vodafone had reportedly warned the government that the first phase of their SRN deployment could be delayed by as much as 2 years (here). This is said to reflect the impact of both the COVID-19 pandemic and long-delays (up to 500 days) in being able to secure planning permission for the sites.

Ofcom are due to review SRN progress this year, and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if, excluding EE’s progress, the targets – at least for completion of the first phase (partial not-spots) – still ends up being delayed. But delays often seem to be synonymous with mobile infrastructure projects. Finding suitable sites, obtaining power supply and fibre backhaul – particularly in remote rural areas, as well as securing the necessary permissions through the planning system, are all well known bugbears.

The government have recently introduced new legislation to help ease some of the challenges, particularly around infrastructure sharing, upgrades to existing sites and taller masts. But Ofcom has only recently begun to consult (here) on adopting some of those changes into their latest update to the related Electronic Communications Code (ECC).

NOTE: The SRN aims to provide guaranteed coverage to an additional 280,000 UK premises, 16,000km of roads and boost ‘in car’ coverage on around 45,000 km of road, as well as better indoor coverage for around 1.2 million premises. Individually, each operator will aim to reach 90% geographic coverage.
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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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5 Responses
  1. Avatar photo J says:

    Is still very poor coverage here in yo258st area ,ee is still very poor here and sometimes says no service

  2. Avatar photo G dawg says:

    Ofcom, useless, led again by business and not who pay their bills the electorate, why are the Total Non-Spot last again when all the funds will be depleted again, like broadband, like Freeview, like phone, like buses, like mobile, like fibre, I say use the money Ofcom waste to bring coverage to the Total Non-Spot areas you muppets

  3. Avatar photo Declan M says:

    Ah yes EE with 1/2 bars of 4G is useable can’t even make a call or text or punted down to 2G at best lovely.

    1. Avatar photo Jon says:

      Onscreen bars are only a guide and the exact same signal can give varying bars between phones – so “only one bar” means nothing. If you can’t dial out with an active VoLTE service, then signal strength is not the issue.

  4. Avatar photo Localzuk says:

    What do they mean by coverage? I’m guessing they mean “outdoor coverage”?

    As more than 6% if EE’s coverage is outdoor only by their own coverage map.

    The area I live in has awful coverage indoors by basically all providers.

Comments are closed

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