O2 expands 4G coverage to 339 rural communities

O2 has pledged to deliver 4G to 339 rural communities in the UK before the end of 2019 as it continues to expand its network further across the country.

The operator’s 4G network covers 90 per cent of the UK’s landmass, while 98 per cent of the population can receive a 4G signal indoors. 

This latest expansion covers areas with no 4G coverage at all and communities with  limited 4G coverage from O2 or other operators. In total, O2 estimates the project will benefit 250,000 people in rural Britain.

Last year, O2 installed the first permanent 4G mast in the remote hamlet of Staylittle in Wales and says better connectivity could boost rural business revenues to the tune of £141 million, generating £45 for the UK economy.

Tourism and hospitality are two sectors singled out as having the most to gain.

O2 rural 4G

“We know mobile has the power to make a real, positive difference to people’s lives and businesses in rural communities across Britain,” said Derek McManus, O2 COO. “That’s why we’re proud to be investing in 4G connectivity for more than 330 rural areas by the end of this year.

“Technology never stands still, which is why we are always looking for the right partners and investing in our future network. Whether trialling 5G to support a future-proof, mobile Britain, or ensuring the remotest parts of rural Britain can connect to 4G, for O2, this is about continuing to invest in all areas – not one at the cost of the other.”

“4G coverage is improving all the time, but there's more to do, particularly in rural areas,” added Margot James, Minister for Digital. “We've already reformed planning laws to make it easier and cheaper to install and upgrade digital infrastructure, and it's great to see O2 and the rest of industry responding to ensure more people in rural Britain can share the brilliant benefits of 4G connectivity.”

Rural 4G coverage is a contentious issue in the UK, with some MPs urging the government to consider rural roaming and to prioritise coverage over financial gain in the upcoming auction of 700MHz airwaves.

A report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rural Business suggested that “rural people and businesses had been abandoned to poor coverage in favour of urban areas, which provide a bigger financial reward for mobile operators.”

Although EE has committed to delivering 4G to 95 per cent of the UK’s landmass by 2020, areas with coverage from all four major operators – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – are less common. Ofcom’s most recent figures suggest 57 per cent of the UK’s geographic area is completely covered, while seven per cent is uncovered by any operator at all.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.