The Government may be celebrating the roll-out of superfast broadband to 95% of the UK’s homes and businesses, but now the attention needs to turn to the availability of 4G. Matt Hancock, the current culture secretary and former digital minister, promised back in 2016 that 4G will be available in every single area throughout the UK by 2020, but there are currently no rules binding networks to that goal. That’s why the Country Land and Business Association has called on Ofcom to force the big four mobile networks to ensure that at least 95% of the UK’s geography can benefit from indoor 4G by the same year.
So far only EE has promised to cover 95% of the UK with 4G signal, but the CLA, which represents 30,000 landowners in England and Wales, wants that to be a reality for all networks. The organisation also wants indoor coverage, not just outdoor.
To back up its case the CLA delved into Ofcom’s own statistics, which showed some areas in the UK boasted less than 10% of indoor 4G coverage. They include Maldon in Essex, where just 8.63% of the area boasts indoor 4G, Ribble Valley in Lancashire with a figure of 6.37%, and Rutland, which had a dismal 3.42% coverage.
That’s why the CLA wants Ofcom to ‘force reluctant mobile network operators’ into improving 4G coverage in rural areas. To do that, the organisation has called for a legally binding target on mobile networks’ operating licenses.
Speaking about the demand, CLA president, Tim Breitmeyer notes: “These figures lay bare the extent to which those living and working in rural areas are cast out into the digital wilderness. It also poses serious questions about what commitment, if any, the mobile operators have to delivering coverage in rural areas. Delivering this mobile coverage is vital to boosting the economy, providing safety and improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
“People living and working in rural areas are missing out on the opportunities that we take for granted in towns and cities to improve the productivity of their businesses, to attract new businesses into their communities, to make emergency calls, and to have the same instant access to social and educational resources. This inequality is simply not good enough.
“For years the mobile companies have promised to improve rural coverage. They have extracted public money, sweeping changes in the law and a range of other concessions on the back of these promises. They are not being held to account when they don’t deliver. It is time to impose a legally binding target to cover 95% of the UK with 4G by 2022.”
The UK government’s own target was for all mobile networks to reach 90% 4G coverage by 2017, while Ofcom intends to attach licence conditions to a future spectrum sale, which would fill in any remaining gaps in coverage.
In response to the CLA, Ofcom adds, “We agree mobile coverage must improve, particularly in rural areas. We’ll soon consult on plan to require mobile companies to extend their networks further, as new airwaves become available.”