Writing for the Telegraph, Mrs Morgan said: “There are still too many areas of the country still waiting for very good mobile coverage. Solving this problem is one of my top priorities and I have challenged the mobile giants to come up with a solution. Only by working together can we crack the persistent problem of poor connectivity.
“So I’m pleased to say that we support a proposal from the industry to make patchy mobile coverage a thing of the past. The proposed £1 billion world-first deal involves the UK’s four mobile operators improving their coverage by jointly investing in a network of new and existing phone masts which they would all utilise to create a ‘shared rural network’.”
The plan represents a delay on the Government’s original 2017 pledge to achieve 95 percent coverage by 2022. Under those proposals ministers threatened to impose a system of ‘national roaming’ on mobile providers to force them to share each other’s networks and improve rural coverage.
However, the initiative was resisted by operators, who warned it would stunt investment as they would be loathe to build masts that improved competitors’ reach.
Under the new scheme, the four operators will form a new organisation to create a Shared Rural Network (SRN), which will allow them to share masts and infrastructure over the next 20 years. This is expected to extend mobile coverage to 280,000 homes and business and also along 16,000 kilometres of roads, principally in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Government said opening up its Emergency Services Network to private providers would create an additional two percent geographic 4G coverage in some of the hardest-to-reach rural areas.