Mobile phone firms agree £5bn deal with government to improve coverage

Sajid Javid secures deal with EE, O2, Three and Vodafone to ensure 90% of UK landmass has basic coverage by 2017

The culture secretary, Sajid Javid, has abandoned plans to force mobile phone companies to allow customers to roam between networks after Theresa May warned that his scheme could aid criminals and terrorists.

In a victory for the home secretary, who warned that Javid’s plans “could have a detrimental impact on law enforcement”, the culture secretary announced a voluntary deal with Britain’s mobile phone firms to improve coverage.

The deal, which will be registered with Ofcom to make it legally binding, will see the companies invest a combined £5bn to ensure that 90% of the UK landmass will have basic text and voice coverage by 2017.

But the deal means that, in geographical terms, 15% of the UK will still not have the full coverage that allows mobile phone users to download data in addition to sending texts and making calls. The providers will increase full coverage from 69% to 85%.

The four companies – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – have also agreed to improve signal strength for phone calls on 2G, 3G and 4G amid criticism from consumers that signals are often too weak.

Javid, who said the deal will help tackle so-called “not-spots”, said: “I am pleased to have secured a legally binding deal with the four mobile networks. Too many parts of the UK regularly suffer from poor mobile coverage leaving them unable to make calls or send texts.

“Government and businesses have been clear about the importance of mobile connectivity and improved coverage, so this legally binding agreement will give the UK the world-class mobile phone coverage it needs and deserves. The £5bn investment from the mobile networks in the UK’s infrastructure will help drive this government’s long-term economic plan.”

The deal means that Javid has stepped back from introducing legislation to force mobile phone companies to allow customers to roam between rival networks. May warned in a Whitehall letter leaked to the Times that roaming could make it more difficult for the intelligence agencies to track terror and criminal suspects.

A Vodafone spokesman said of the new deal: “We support the government’s objective of delivering better coverage to rural areas including partial not-spots. This is why Vodafone is already spending £1bn on our network and services in the UK this year alone and will continue to spend a similar amount next year as well.

“The voluntary industry commitment we have agreed with the government today will deliver 90% of the UK’s landmass with voice services and a major improvement in mobile internet coverage as well. It is a great result for UK consumers and businesses and it will make the UK a leader across Europe in terms of the reach of mobile coverage.”


Nicholas Watt

The GuardianTramp

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