The advancement means that EE take a stronger lead in the joint operator project as the three other operators lag behind in their rollout 

EE has further expanded its 4G network in Northern Ireland by upgrading 139 sites as part of the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme. 

In addition to upgrading existing sites to 4G, EE has also built a new mobile mast covering the Mid Ulster district and part of the Sperrins mountain range, an area of outstanding natural beauty that serves thousands of tourists each year. This project was completed in partnership with WHP Telecoms. 

The SRN is a £1 billion scheme designed to improve the 4G coverage in rural areas across the UK. It is a joint project between the UK’s four mobile operators (Virgin Media O2, EE, Three, and Vodafone) and the government, aiming to help expand to expand the geographic coverage of 4G to 95% of UK by the end of 2025. This involves upgrading existing infrastructure and deploying new equipment in areas that need it, which will be shared by all four operators.   

In total, EE aims to build or upgrade 164 sites across Northern Ireland as part of the programme.  

“The Shared Rural Network initiative has a strategically important role to play in delivering improved connectivity to businesses and more rural communities across Northern Ireland. To be competitive, businesses in all parts of NI need access to fast and reliable digital infrastructure, so this investment is very good news for the economy,” said Suzanne Wylie, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry in a press release. 

“The upgrades from EE will help businesses become better connected to their customers and suppliers, whilst also making everyday transactions like electronic payments, online marketing and banking operate more efficiently.” 

“The Shared Rural Network is having a positive impact on the lives of people who live and work in countryside communities across the UK.  At EE we’re expanding the reach of our 4G network to deliver widespread and reliable connectivity rural areas can rely on,” said Greg McCall, Chief Networks Officer at BT, EE’s parent company. 

“Northern Ireland is renowned for its rich history and heritage, as well as its thriving tourism and agricultural industries.  Having boosted 4G connectivity across the country, we’re helping close the digital divide that exists between urban and rural communities and ensuring residents and businesses have the connectivity they need to thrive for decades to come.” 

According to EE, the operator has upgraded more than 1,500 locations across the UK already, with the firm on track to meet its UK-wide target of 88% 4G geographic coverage by June 2024. 

Last week however, the remaining three operators in the programme (Vodafone, Virgin Media O2, and Three) requested that the UK government grant an extension of up to two years to complete the SRN, according to reports from the Telegraph 

In the project’s first phase, operators were given until June 2024 to ensure that 88% of the country’s landmass has 4G coverage. This deadline is seemingly unreachable, however, with the operators citing the impact of the pandemic and issues in securing planning permission for sites as the primary causes for the delays. 

That EE appears to be the only operator currently on track to meet its SRN goals should come as no great surprise. As the UK’s largest mobile operator, EE’s obligations to the SRN programme largely involved upgrading their existing sites, while the other operators had the more arduous task of deploying new sites from scratch.  

Is the UK on track to meet its coverage goals? Join the operators in discussion at the UK’s largest digital economy event, Connected Britain 2024 

Also in the news:
Orange and Masmovil inch towards merger as Digi selected to buy divested assets
ITS secure £100m funding for full fibre rollout
FCC puts AI spam communications under the microscope