Insights Government announces £1 billion programme to improve rural mobile connectivity across the UK


The Government says that the new investment in the Shared Rural Network (SRN) will see EE, O2, Three and Vodafone build and upgrade phone masts to end so-called “partial not-spots”: areas where only some, but not all, mobile network operators (MNOs) provide 4G coverage.

The Government says that the scheme is a “major part” of its plan to “level up all parts of the UK and will bring economic and social benefits for people no matter where they live”.

New maps and figures published by the Government show that Scotland will benefit the most from the SRN. Coverage from all four MNOs is to be delivered to three quarters (74%) of Scotland’s landmass. According to the Government, this is an increase of a third and up from 42% currently. Further, it says, the deal will see 4G coverage from at least one operator reach more than 91% of every electoral region in Scotland.

The Government says that the Highlands and Islands will see the largest uptick in coverage with a 42% rise in areas with coverage from all four operators. This increase will bring coverage from all four MNOs to 68%. 4G coverage from at least one MNO will reach 91% of the region’s landmass. Regions with higher proportions of rural areas will benefit the most. Areas with coverage from all four operators will dial up by 26% in South Scotland, 23% in West Scotland and 20% in North East Scotland.

The SRN, which was set up in March 2020, will also start work to end “total not-spots”, i.e., areas that have no coverage from any operator. It has begun searching for, acquiring and building publicly funded masts to be shared between all four MNOs.

The UK Government has also launched a consultation with the telecoms industry (see item below) to identify any existing infrastructure which can be utilised to end total not-spots. It wants to reduce the need to build new phone masts and help make sure public funds are used effectively. The focus of the consultation is on Scotland where the majority of coverage improvements will take place and which will need significantly more infrastructure compared to other home nations.

In a further boost to connectivity in Scotland, the Scottish Government has confirmed it can continue to provide up to £5,000 extra funding to top-up the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. This is in addition to the £1,500 available to rural homes and £3,500 available to rural small to medium-sized businesses.

The UK Government continues to actively work with the Scottish Government on gigabit deployment through their Reaching 100% (R100) programme. The scope of the final R100 contract will be confirmed in the summer. To read the Government’s press release in full, click here.