Operators finalise £1bn Shared Rural Network

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The UK’s four major mobile operators have finally come to an agreement on how the £1 billion Shared Rural Network (SRN) will be implemented.

First announced last year, the SRN will see operators share masts in areas of the country that don’t have access to all four networks.

Operators will invest £530 million to open up and share their infrastructure, and pay each other a fee for access. The government will then provide up to £500 million to build new masts in ‘total not spots’ where there is no 4G coverage from any operator. The aim is to reach 95 per cent of the UK landmass by 2025.

Shared Rural Network

Reaching a final deal has proved difficult, with fees paid between operators believed to be a sticking point. The government had been eager to have a legally-binding agreement inn place before Thursday’s budget.

“For too many people in the countryside a bad phone signal is a daily frustration,” declared Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden. “This is an important milestone to level up the country, improve people’s lives and increase prosperity across the length and breadth of our United Kingdom.”

The agreement ends the spectre of a national roaming network and overly-restrictive coverage obligation requirements imposed on 5G spectrum licences. However the commitments are subject to oversight from Ofcom, which will have the power to issue fines of up to 10 per cent of an operator’s gross revenue if they fail to meet their targets.

However, chief executives of EE, O2, Three and Vodafone are all happy that talks have now concluded.

“The Shared Rural Network partnership between the mobile operators and the Government is unprecedented in both its scope and its ambition,” declared Hamish McLeod, director of industry body Mobile UK. “Mobile UK looks forward to supporting the delivery of the programme in the coming years.”

"Dire levels of 4G are shutting many people out of important online services, so plans to address this are positive,” added Caroline Normand, Which? Director of Advocacy. “Government and industry must now ensure that these plans deliver for consumers.

“We welcome the guarantees that these improvements will be delivered quickly across the UK with ongoing monitoring and industry being held to account to ensure these coverage improvements."

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.