£150m will be spent by the UK government on improving mobile coverage in the UK, the Chancellor, George Osborne, has announced today at the conservative party conference. It's estimated that this will improve coverage for 5 to 10% of consumers and businesses in rural areas which often suffer for very poor or non-existent mobile coverage.
The government aim to reach 99% of the population and will release funding so that the roll out of new masts can begin from 2012. Ofcom will be in charge of procuring the sites for these new masts. It's imagined that the mobile networks would have to have equal access to these sites to ensure that the deployment does not unfairly favour one operator over another, and to ensure that coverage of all operators is achieved.
Ofcom could follow in the footsteps of Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the body tasked with assigning funds for broadband roll-out through local authorities, to create an open-access wholesale mobile network that can be used by all operators, but this is likely to delay the roll-out and it could be difficult to achieve agreement from all the operators to ensure interoperability.
"We have maintained for some time that market forces alone will not solve these problems. In particular, poor and unreliable coverage, which exists mostly in rural areas, is likely to persist to some degree as there is limited scope for commercially-driven improvements."Ofcom Statement
There could be some real joint incentives by working with BDUK on this deployment however. By ensuring that all new sites that are enabled will support 4G services, some broadband not-spots could be filled in and get access to faster services through the mobile network. It's also a government ambition to get a fibre 'village pump' installed in all communities, and this may correlate with fibre-backhaul that is required by the mobile networks to support the new masts.
Whilst 99% coverage seems like a great target, lets not forget that the crucial 1% being missed does leave out over 600,000 people who will still receive little to no coverage, and there will be little incentive for the mobile providers to improve networks to reach these final people.