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O2 UK Claim Completion of Phase One of Rural 4G Mobile Rollout Project UPDATE

Monday, Jul 1st, 2024 (8:22 am) - Score 2,360
O2-SRN-4G-Mobile-Mast-in-Remote-Glencoe-Scotland-UK-PR-01072024

Mobile network operator O2 (Virgin Media / VMO2) has reported that they’ve “completed the first phase” of the £1bn industry-led Shared Rural Network (SRN) rollout, which was achieved by expanding their 4G (mobile broadband) coverage to a total of 227 rural communities in “partial not-spot areas” across the UK.

The SRN – supported by £501m of public funding and £532m from operators – 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, which aims to extend geographic 4G coverage (aggregate) to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025 (or 84% when only considering the 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 SRN includes several targets, but the first one involves the delivery of industry funded coverage improvements for Partial Not-Spot (PNS) areas (i.e. areas that receive coverage from at least one operator, but not all), which needed to be achieved by June 2024. At this point, 4G (mobile broadband) must cover 88% of the UK’s landmass.

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Rival operator EE (BT) became the first provider to report having achieved the PNS target in January 2024 (here), nearly half a year ahead of schedule, and it now appears as if O2 has recently gone full throttle to deliver on their own side of the SRN build commitment in time for the deadline. The progress is important, particularly given the concerns about long delays by the National Audit Office (here) and Public Accounts Committee (here).

Overall, O2 claims to have now built “more shared sites than any other operator” to improve mobile coverage in 227 partial not-spot areas across the UK. The Glencoe Mountain Resort (Scotland’s oldest ski centre) became the 227th site to benefit from improved 4G coverage, which also has the distinction of being the “highest mobile mast in the UK“, standing some 1,108 metres above sea level.

Jeanie York, CTO of VMO2, said:

“We are absolutely committed to bringing reliable mobile connectivity to more rural communities and have now completed the first phase of our SRN rollout. Our 227th site at Glencoe is now the highest mast in the UK and one of the most impressive to date, standing over a kilometre above sea level and providing connectivity to the nearby ski resort. This work is vital in tackling the urban-rural digital divide that exists in the UK.”

However, the official announcement makes no mention of the 88% coverage figure, which forms a key part of the PNS target. This is because achieving such a level remains contingent upon the other operators (particularly Vodafone and Three UK) being able to deliver on their PNS builds (i.e. if their rivals are still heavily delayed, then O2 will also remain below 88%). “This means that there is interdependence between operators and no one operator is able to meet the 88% target alone,” said a VMO2 spokesperson to ISPreview.

At the end of the day, it’s Ofcom’s responsibility to take a view on whether the Phase One (PNS) licence obligations have been met or not. The regulator is due to run a progress assessment this summer and will then reach a conclusion by the early autumn, which should give us a clear idea of how much progress has been made and where the operators have fallen short.

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In addition, BT (EE) has just reached a crucial mast sharing agreement with Vodafone and O2 (here), which could enable rival operators to catch-up.

UPDATE 10:02am

Added an extra little remark from VMO2 above on coverage.

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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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Comments
6 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Chris says:

    Interestingly, it seems there was already a mast at the top of Glencoe mountain, previously built by Network Rail to support rail signalling.
    https://www.scotsman.com/news/transport/railway-work-to-be-carried-out-3600ft-up-glencoe-mountain-1483002
    I guess that helped the MNOs with power and backhaul

  2. Avatar photo Al says:

    I can’t really comprehend the benefits of making such statements without them referring to detailed coverage maps of the improvement to their network before and after investment.

    No yardstick, no objectivity, no point.

    Might as well say they spent lots more on paying staff this year than they did last year – well, duh.

  3. Avatar photo koko says:

    lol what aload of bull O2 are still to slow and unreliable

  4. Avatar photo Andy H says:

    Can’t wait until Vodafone and Three tie the not and combine their networks, so much for filling their respective quota of not spots, has anyone tried getting a 4G signal in Avebury and along the A4 to Marlborough! good luck to you as the combined forces of the heritage lobby and Wiltshire council thwart any attempts by mobile networks to provide a reasonable service in this area. So much time and expense waisted on providing 5G to already well served cities with scenic rural England left with such a poor 4G service, at least they could boost 4G coverage by using the old 3G frequencies at 1800Mhz let along utilising 700/800Mhz spectrum much sooner.

  5. Avatar photo O2 says:

    Blah blah v poor coverage in big cities blah blah what good is this

  6. Avatar photo Gary Mackenzie says:

    No change here from EE lack of coverage, better coverage from O2 and has been for last 24 months.
    All local masts have poor level of signal, though BT/EE is worst for dropping out.

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