Government ditches national roaming plans in deal to end not-spots

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DCMS hails “landmark £5 billion deal” as operators agree to guarantee coverage for 90 per cent of UK by 2017

The UK’s leading mobile operators have agreed a deal with the Government to invest £5 billion to improve infrastructure and guarantee 90 per cent coverage by 2017.

EE, O2, Vodafone and Three have struck a binding agreement with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to halve the number of areas with poor coverage, known as “not-spots” after the government performed a U-turn on national roaming

DCMS will ditch plans it announced in June to force the networks to allow customers to roam on to another network in areas with no signal, known as “national roaming”, after the networks agreed to a voluntary infrastructure investment.

The networks were opposed to the roaming proposals claiming that they would have a negative impact on investment and competition.

The operators will guarantee voice and text coverage across 90 per cent of the UK (geographically) by improving their 2G and 3G networks.

The £5 billion figure quoted by DCMS is money that the networks have already pledged to invest in their infrastructure but will help operators to reach their targets.

Culture secretary Sajid Javid said: “I am pleased to have secured a legally binding deal with the four mobile networks. Too many parts of the UK regularly suffer from poor mobile coverage leaving them unable to make calls or send texts.

“Government and businesses have been clear about the importance of mobile connectivity, and improved coverage, so this agreement will give the UK the world-class mobile phone coverage it needs and deserves. The £5 billion investment from the mobile networks in the UK’s infrastructure will help drive this Government’s long-term economic plan.”

The deal will see areas with no mobile coverage at all reduced by two-thirds, according to DCMS, and will work alongside the £150 million investment into these areas from the Government.

In return for the investment, the Government has agreed to “reform the out-dated and ineffective Electronic Communications Code”. The code is the agreement between regulator Ofcom and the  telecoms providers regarding the rollout of new mobile and broadband services.

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “Ofcom spokesman: “Ofcom is working with the Government to help deliver better mobile coverage in the UK. With Ofcom coverage obligations already on 4G, today’s announcement will improve voice and data services for consumers in the UK.”

Licence fees

The Government will also allow its freehold buildings to be used as sites for mobile infrastructure, opening up hundreds of potential new sites for the operators.

According to DCMS, the Government will not make any direct payments to the network, but it has agreed to speak to Ofcom about the annual licence fee agreements, meaning the networks could see a reduction in fees paid for spectrum. Dave-Dyson-web

Three CEO Dave Dyson said: “We’ve doubled the size of our network in the past five years and we continue to invest to maintain a great network experience for our customers. Today’s agreement reflects the strength of our network today, our plans for the future and our commitment to bring its benefits to more people and more places than ever before.”

Mobile News understands that one of the key elements of the negotiations with DCMS was for Ofcom to consider lowering the annual fee if the networks agreed to new targets.

Part of the agreement will see Ofcom reassess annual licence fees. Currently, O2 is the only operator who has been set a target for its 4G rollout, with Ofcom requiring O2 to provide 4G to 98 per cent of the UK population by 2017.

An O2 spokesperson said: “We’re pleased to have reached an agreement with the Government on the joint industry proposal to improve mobile phone service in rural locations. The proposal will deliver better geographic coverage for our customers across the UK, support investment in our network and maintain market competition between the operators, which has generated so many benefits for customers.”

“Great result for consumers and businesses”

In January, Vodafone became the last network to achieve agreed to targets to provide 90 per cent 3G coverage across the UK after Ofcom singled the operator out as the only one failing to meet the goal.

The new agreement means the networks will also be given targets for providing coverage across either 2G or 3G, as voice calls over 4G has not launched yet.

A Vodafone UK spokesperson said: “We support the Government’s objective of delivering better coverage to rural areas including partial not spots.

“The voluntary industry commitment we have agreed today is a great result for UK consumers and businesses and it will make the UK a leader across Europe in terms of the reach of mobile coverage.

“We will now work with Government and Ofcom to ensure the policy reforms that will underpin our ability to invest and build mobile network infrastructure are delivered. This must include modernising of out of date property and planning laws that delay network roll out and Government providing access to public sector land and buildings to place mobile infrastructure.”   Olaf-Swantee-3_hi-rez-web

EE had been one of the most outspoken critics of the national roaming proposals and the operator said it was glad that DCMS had accepted the proposals made by the UK operators.

EE CEO Olaf Swantee said: “EE is focused on bringing the best voice and data service to its customers across the UK, and only last week announced 1,500 unconnected villages will soon benefit from EE coverage. This agreement ensures that our customers are able to stay connected in even more places up and down the country.”

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