Published: 09:09, 28 January 2021
| Updated: 09:11, 28 January 2021
News that three of the biggest mobile phone networks have confirmed they are to build hundreds of new masts to boost 4G coverage in rural areas has been welcomed as a crucial shot in the arm for homes and businesses.
The issue has been an on-going problem for many homes and businesses across Kent and has been welcomed by countryside associations.
O2, Three and Vodafone will partner to build and share 222 new mobile masts as the first stage of the Shared Rural Network.
The network is a £1billion programme to improve rural mobile coverage and was agreed by the mobile network operators, the government and Ofcom in March 2020.
Funded by the mobile industry and Whitehall, investment will be made in new and existing phone masts to increase all operators’ 4G coverage to "at least 90% of UK landmass and their aggregate coverage to 95% by 2026".
In short, it will provide guaranteed coverage to an additional 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads as well as boosting ‘in car’ coverage
England will see 54 of the new masts - subject to suitable sites being identified - with work starting this year and due to be completed by 2024.
While 4G offers better phone and internet access, the technology has already been superseded by the ultra-fast 5G which is currently being rolled out across the UK including a number of Kent areas.
However, many rural areas will embrace the boost after years of being left behind.
It is hoped it will extend the proportion of the UK were all mobile networks provide 4G services from 67% to 84% and virtually eliminate so-called 'partial not spots' where at least one but not all four of the UK's mobile networks provide 4G coverage.
The only network not involved in the new masts deal is EE - owned by BT. It says it has already invested in hundreds of mobile masts in recent years and will make many available for the other networks to use as part of the roll-out,
In addition, the government has also pledged to spend over £500m to eliminate areas where there is no 4G coverage from any operator.
Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said: “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.
“As part of this new Shared Rural Network the government is also investing half a billion pounds on new masts in areas without any signal at all meaning no one is left behind.”
President of the Countryside Land and Business Association (CLA) which represents firms and landowners in the county, Mark Bridgeman, welcomed the move.
He said: "The Shared Rural Network will enhance the lives of millions of people living in the countryside and will provide a much-needed boost to rural productivity, which is 16% below the national average.
“Only 66% of rural areas currently have good access to 4G coverage, with only a 1% improvement recorded last year. This agreement will hopefully speed up the process of increased coverage being rolled-out - and the improvement will help unlock investment in the rural economy.
“Better coverage could also see more businesses start-up or re-locate to the countryside, creating new jobs as the country emerges from the Covid-19 crisis. But that will only happen if the proposed timescales are fulfilled.”