£150m rural mobile coverage boost to have limited effect
£150m of investment from the government to help improve mobile coverage in rural areas may not achieve the aims it had set out. The Chancellor, George Osborne, announced the funds in October 2011 and stated that the government were aspiring to bring mobile phone reception to 99% of the population and this funding could help reach 6 million people, but this figure has now been revised down to just 60,000. It's also hoped that mobile Internet services using 3G would be deployed where possible.
The restraint comes partly from only being able to build masts where there is currently no coverage. This is because if another operator is already providing signal in an area, a government funded mast would provide an unfair advantage to the networks that used it, breaching European state aid rules.
"The focus of the project is on maximising the number of people benefiting from the investment, as far as reasonably possible. It is still our aim to cover the majority of the premises and key roads situated in complete not-spot areas."DCMS spokesman
Another set back for the scheme is the mobile operator Three is unwilling to put equipment on the government funded masts. It is doing so in protest against the 4G spectrum auctions which are currently planned which it feels could give the other mobile operators a competitive advantage due to the type of spectrum that they may own by the end of the process. The company currently operates only with high frequency mobile spectrum (2100MHz), whilst both O2 and Vodafone were gifted low frequency (900MHz) spectrum by the government when the mobile networks were formed. If the company does not gain any or enough of the 800MHz band from the 4G auctions, its signal will be limited in how far it can travel meaning it would need to install more masts than its rivals to offer the same level of coverage.