EE ups SRN ante with extra 4G coverage

BT-owned EE, one of the four UK mobile network operators that has pledged to improve mobile broadband coverage under the Shared Rural Network (SRN) program, said it is planning to improve 4G network coverage in rural areas where mobile broadband services are patchy at best – so-called "partial not-spots."

EE was missing in action when its three rivals, Telefónica-owned O2 UK, CK Hutchison's Three UK and Vodafone UK, announced plans last month to build and share 222 mobile masts to help eliminate partial not-spots.

At the time, EE said it is less affected by rural not-spots than its three rivals and indicated it is able to meet the requirements of its SRN targets through upgrades to its existing sites.

Back to nature: It might look pretty – but the odds are that mobile broadband is likely to be patchy at best.  (Source: Jillian Kim on Unsplash)
Back to nature: It might look pretty – but the odds are that mobile broadband is likely to be patchy at best.
(Source: Jillian Kim on Unsplash

The operator is now making good on that plan, announcing the first 579 of around 1,000 4G additions using existing infrastructure wherever possible.

In fact, EE has already upgraded 110 of these areas since the SRN deal was signed in March 2020. A further 469 upgrades will now follow by the end of this year. All sites have been made available for other operators to share under the SRN scheme.

Indeed, Philip Jansen, CEO of BT Group, said: "There are many places where EE is the only provider with 4G coverage today, offering the other operators an opportunity to share our existing sites to plug gaps in their networks and improve mobile performance for everyone."

A spokesperson for EE said the operator's geographic network coverage is now over 85% and it's on course to reach 88% by 2024.

SRN picks up pace

The announcements so far this year indicate that the SRN is gaining traction, after a slow start after the agreement was signed by the four mobile network operators and UK government ministers last year.

The aim of the SRN is to increase all operators' 4G coverage to at least 90% of UK landmass and their aggregate coverage to 95% by 2026. It intends to provide guaranteed coverage to an additional 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads.

Want to know more about 3G, 4G and WiFi? Check out our dedicated open RAN channel here on Light Reading.

Each mobile operator has committed to providing good quality data and voice coverage to 88% of the landmass by June 30, 2024, and 90% by June 30, 2026, subject to certain conditions, including the provision of funding for elements of the program.

The four operators have made a £532 million (US$731 million) commitment to eliminate almost all partial not-spots. More than £500 million ($686.7 million) of government funding has also been earmarked to help eliminate total not-spots – hard-to-reach areas where there is currently no coverage from any operator.

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom is responsible for ensuring that the operators meet their coverage targets under the SRN. In November 2020, Ofcom told the operators that its review indicated they were on track to meet their coverage obligations agreed in 2020.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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