The agreement comes as part of the first stage of the Shared Rural Network (SRN) scheme, which was first agreed by all four of the UK’s operators last March

Today, UK operators Vodafone, O2, and Three have announced that they have agreed to build and share 222 mobile towers to support 4G coverage in rural areas across the UK. Scotland will be receiving the lion’s share, with around 124 new sites, while Wales will receive 33, Northern Ireland 11, and England 54. 

The move comes as the first stage of the £1 billion Shared Rural Network, which was first agreed back in March last year. The industry-led project will make use of £500 million in public investment, matched with £500 million of private funds, in order to greatly improve rural 4G connectivity around the country, aiming for 95% geographic coverage of the UK by 2026. The SRN calls for increased sharing of mobile tower infrastructure and of cooperative site building, which the government hopes will not only accelerate increased coverage and reduce unnecessary deployment duplication, but also provide customers with more choice when it comes to operators. 

This move is part of the first stage of the SRN, which focuses on rural ‘grey spots’, where customers currently have little choice in their mobile provider. Stage two, which is supported by the government funding, will focus on the ‘white spots’, which receive no coverage at all. 

“I’m delighted to see major progress being made to banish ‘not spots’ of poor or patchy mobile coverage. This new infrastructure will unlock the potential of rural communities in all four nations and offer greater choice of fast and reliable 4G services,” said Matt Warman, UK Minister for Digital Infrastructure/

It should be noted however, that far more towers will be needed if the operators are to hit the lofty goals set out by the SRN, especially considering that this first batch of 222 masts will not be operational until 2024. We will need to see significant acceleration of this scheme over the next year if rural coverage is going to be significantly improved via the SRN.

EE, who was not included in this announcement, explained that they did not need to build new masts in order to meet their initial SRN targets.

“Our historic investment into rural coverage means we already deliver the widest 4G network across the UK, helping to meet our Shared Rural Network target. We’ve built more than 600 new rural sites over the past few years and we’ve offered to make these available to other operators to support them to improve their own rural coverage,” said an EE spokesperson.


How effective is the Shared Rural Network scheme in helping to drive up rural connectivity? Find out from the key players themselves at this year’s virtual Connected Britain

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