Shared rural network to boost 4G mobile connections 'is a game-changer for North Yorkshire'

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A landmark deal that would see the UK's big four mobile operators work together on a shared rural network for 4G connections has been hailed by a senior North Yorkshire councillor as a "game-changer" for poorly-served areas of the country.

Providers EE, O2, Three and Vodafone will collectively fund £530 million towards a network of new and existing phone masts they would all share equally, though the 'world-first' deal is yet to be finalised.

If it goes ahead, the Government has pledged up to £500 million towards the proposal, which aims to bring 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by 2025 by addressing so-called "not-spots" in remote locations.

At present, almost a third of the UK suffers with patchy coverage and in mostly rural North Yorkshire only 60 per cent of the county is able to get 4G, which provides faster connections speeds than 3G technology.

Read more: 'Let mobile operators share phone masts to improve coverage in rural Yorkshire'

Read more: North Yorkshire’s Rural Commission must offer a story of hope and be open with people – The Bishop of Ripon

North Yorkshire is one of the areas of the country worst-affected by mobile phone reception 'not-spots'

North Yorkshire is one of the areas of the country worst-affected by mobile phone reception 'not-spots'

The Government claims the move will banish almost all partial not-spots, where there is currently only coverage from at least one but not all operators, and an additional 280,000 premises and 9,942 miles (16,000km) of roads will have mobile coverage.

Scott Petty, chief technology officer for Vodafone UK, told the PA news agency that his expectations for the deal to go through are somewhere around the 90 per cent mark and said he believes it is "extremely unlikely" to have any impact on prices for consumers.

"I think this is a very efficient way for us to build the infrastructure and certainly more cost- effective than other proposals that have been put on the table," he said.

Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “Brokering an agreement for mast sharing between networks alongside new investment in mobile infrastructure will mean people get good 4G signal no matter where they are or which provider they’re with."

North Yorkshire County Councillor Don Mackenzie said: "We have been lobbying for this for a long time. Today's announcement is very much a game-changer for rural authorities like North Yorkshire."

Coun Mackenzie said better digital infrastructure was a way of "overcoming geographical remoteness" in an area of 3,000 square miles with a population of around 600,000.

He said that since the start of Superfast North Yorkshire, broadband coverage in England's largest county had risen to around 95 per cent but there were still areas with a high number of 'not-spots' in the Dales and North York Moors.

He said council officials had done everything possible to increase the number of phone masts being used by operators, including providing masts free of charge and not asking firms to pay business rates, but to no avail.

In July, Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake sent a letter signed by 77 MPs from across the party divide urging then Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright to support the scheme.

He said: "This is fantastic news. It will make a huge difference to so many people in my constituency where, in some areas, there is no mobile coverage at all.

"It will put an end to the frustration felt by thousands of people who currently feel cut off and mean people will get good 4G signal on the go wherever they live, work or travel and it will have a big impact on the local economy."

But experts have warned people to keep pressuring the industry, as there are still several legal hurdles that could stall efforts.

"Proposals to finally boost much-needed 4G coverage across the UK are positive and should help consumers access a better signal, but government and industry must now urgently clarify how these plans will deliver the right level of geographic coverage to match what people actually need," said Caroline Normand, director of advocacy at Which?.

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at uSwitch.com, said: "While potentially exciting, this agreement still isn't signed and has several legal hurdles to clear, so people in rural areas need to maintain pressure on the Government and network providers to get this over the line."

Regulator Ofcom welcomed the news, saying: "These improvements will make a real difference to mobile customers across the UK, and we'll ensure they're legally binding by writing them into operators' licences.

"We will also monitor and report on companies' progress in achieving better coverage. Separately, we will shortly set out revised plans to release more airwaves for mobile services next year.

"In light of today's agreement, we are no longer proposing to include coverage requirements in our auction process. We will now press ahead, with industry, on the urgent task of getting better mobile services to people wherever they are."