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FarrPoint Study Claims EE’s 4G Gives Economic Boost to UK Rural Areas

Wednesday, Jun 26th, 2024 (12:04 am) - Score 680
EE-Lake-District-SRN-Monopole-Mast-2023

A new study conducted by technical consultancy firm FarrPoint, which was commissioned by UK telecoms operator EE (BT), has claimed that deploying 4G mobile (mobile broadband) networks can deliver social and economic benefits, worth between £249,000 and £6.9m, to different types of rural communities over 15 years.

The new study – ‘Rural 4G connectivity: Analysing the community benefits of mobile investment‘ – appears partly intended to help highlight EE’s efforts in building more than 300 new rural mobile masts and upgrading over 1,500 existing sites across the UK in the past 5 years – costing hundreds of millions of pounds.

Much of this has supported EE’s effort under the wider £1bn industry-led Shared Rural Network (SRN) project, which aims to extend geographic 4G coverage (aggregate) to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025 – falling to 84% when only considering the areas where you’ll be able to take 4G from all providers. Not to mention the 50 isolated communities that they and others helped as part of the Scottish 4G Infill (S4GI) project (here).

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At the start of this year EE reported that they had already become the first – and so far, only – mobile operator to report having achieved the SRN’s first target for Partial Not-Spot (PNS) areas (i.e. areas that receive coverage from at least one operator, but not all), which required that their 4G service must cover 88% of the UK’s landmass (here). Ofcom has yet to officially confirm this.

NOTE: The overall 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.

According to FarrPoint’s new analysis, there is a “significant positive economic impact in every rural community that received 4G coverage from EE“, although this does vary between locations. For example, at two of the sites (Mallaig and Melton Mowbray), the scale of the social and economic benefits to the local community considerably outweighs the cost of the network investment (c. £553,000 per rural mast on average).

Just to be clear, that figure of £553k reflects the total from an average infrastructure cost of £207,000 and average operation & management costs of £32,000 per year, which have been used to give an overall present value of investment in each mast site over the 15-year period.

However, the same is not true of the masts in Dunseverick and Trawsfynydd, where the cost for EE to build and maintain its 4G service is higher. This is largely because the lower population density of these locations – or presence of other networks – means less people use the individual masts. But locals are still expected to “reap substantial benefits” and such sites only represent a “small proportion of EE’s entire mobile network“.

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FarrPoint-and-EE-Cost-and-Economic-Impact-of-4G-on-UK-Rural-Sites

In terms of how the benefits are all derived, they mostly base their figures on past reports from other studies and assumptions about improvements, such as in terms of greater flexible working, time savings, less travel, innovation, an increased labour force, tourism (e.g. helping visitors to shop, book/find local restaurants and navigate etc.), IoT solutions and so forth.

Greg McCall, Chief Networks Officer at BT Group, said:

“Every rural community can benefit from modern mobile connectivity. This report provides evidence of how it is helping local businesses grow, supporting rural employment opportunities, and enabling more people to experience the benefits of the digital economy. That’s why we’re proud to have delivered on the coverage targets we committed to, helping to close the digital divide and ensure that the benefits of 4G connectivity are more widely felt in every corner of the UK.”

Overall this is quite a useful report and one where the case studies aren’t only accentuating the positives. Put another way, EE and FarrPoint aren’t afraid of showing the reality for some remote communities, which can make it hard for network operators to make viable economic models for new mast sites.

At the same time, gauging the economic impacts of improving 4G connectivity is notoriously difficult, not least because most businesses and consumers won’t be starting from a point of zero existing connectivity (fixed line broadband may already be present) and issues of coverage, band choice and so forth can vary a lot. Equally, not everybody will fully harness 4G once it is available.

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However, few people would disagree that there does tend to be a strong positive relationship between 4G/5G investment and growth, although figures like those predicted in the above report should probably still be taken with a pinch of salt.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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