UK mobile operators ramp up Shared Rural Network commitments

EE and Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) have revealed further expansion of their coverage areas.

The expansions see EE announcing a 4G mobile coverage boost in Ceredigion, Wales, part of more than 150 other locations across the Principality, where EE has expanded 4G under the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme, with VMO2 delivering 4G masts to the village of Killin, near Stirling in Scotland.

The principle of the £1.3bn SRN programme, launched in 2020, is that through both public and private investment, new and existing phone masts will be built or upgraded across the UK to close down so-called rural mobile notspots.

Under the SRN scheme, the UK’s four mobile network operators (MNOs) – EE, VMO2, Three and Vodafone – have committed to improving 4G coverage and levelling up connectivity across the UK, which has seen them invest in a shared network of new and existing phone masts, overseen by a jointly owned company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL).

The operators’ £532m investment is being complemented by more than £501m in government funding.

With more than a million tourists expected to visit mid-Wales this year to enjoy its scenic coastline, hiking routes and heritage, EE has strengthened 4G connectivity along two of the county’s major roads – the A44 and the A487 – as well as in several towns and villages including Aberystwyth, Aberteifi (Cardigan), Llangrannog and Morfa Borth.

Mobile connectivity has also been boosted at popular locations such as Aberaeron Beach, Llangrannog Beach, Teifi Estuary, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest, Ynyslas National Nature Reserve and along the Wales Coast Path in Cardigan Bay.

Just as the UK’s mobile providers retire older generations of mobile networks, EE said 4G connectivity offers rural communities the biggest and most reliable network of any current mobile technology in the UK, and cites this as the reason why EE has expanded its 4G coverage across the UK by more than 10,000 square kilometres in the past five years.

“Ceredigion is famous for its Cardigan Bay coastline and the wild Cambrian Mountains,” said Greg McCall, chief networks officer at EE parent BT Group. “It is also one of the most sparsely populated parts of Wales. These new 4G upgrades will not only mean residents will be able to stay connected to the people and things they love most, but businesses and community groups can use our network to offer new services and experiences to the many tourists who visit every year.

“Having brought our 4G connectivity to a further 1,600 rural locations across the UK as part of our significant contribution to the Shared Rural Network, we have gone further than anyone to deliver reliable mobile connectivity for rural communities who need it most.”

As part of its commitment to the SRN programme, VMO2 will be building seven new partial not-spot masts in the Stirling area, and has used a helicopter to deliver new 4G masts to the remote village of Killin.

Currently, nearly a third (29%) of the area lacks 4G coverage from all four mobile network operators, with signal blackspots creating an issue for local people and visitors alike. VMO2 said the SRN upgrade programme is set to help tackle this, providing essential connectivity to people in historic not-spots.

Through the upgrade, VMO2 said the area is set to benefit from a complete transformation in mobile connectivity that will tackle countless not-spots and areas of patchy signal. It assures local businesses that its upgrades will offer faster and more reliable mobile connectivity than ever before, making it easier to access online services while also making available a greater choice of provider.

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