Government announces “breakthrough” on Shared Rural Network

The UK government has published a transparency notice for the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme and announced that it will proceed with a £500 million investment.

The investment will be used to provide all corners of the UK with better mobile connectivity. The government said that this brings it “a step closer to delivering better mobile coverage in rural areas”.

The Shared Rural Network is an infrastructure programme that seeks to bring 4G to hard-to-reach areas of the UK. A 2020 deal between the government and UK’s Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) EE, O2, Three and Vodafone will see both public and private investment in a network of new and existing phone masts.

The MNOs have already begun work as part of the deal to close the majority of ‘partial not-spots’ – areas where there is coverage from at least one but not all operators – by mid-2024. With £500 million in funding now available, the government and the MNOs say they are confident that combined coverage will be delivered to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2025.

The transparency notice has been published in compliance with the UK’s subsidy obligations under the UK–EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA). It sets out how the programme meets the TCA’s subsidy control principles.

Matt Warman, minister for digital infrastructure, said, “The Shared Rural Network is a key part of the government’s infrastructure revolution to level up and unlock new economic opportunities in every corner of the UK. Mobile firms are making great progress boosting 4G services in countryside communities as part of their side of this landmark agreement. With the publication of this notice, we shall now push on with making patchy or poor coverage a thing of the past as we build back better from the pandemic.”

Scotland has its own scheme to improve rural mobile coverage – the Scottish 4G Infill Programme – whereby WHP Telecoms, the Scottish Government’s supplier in the programme, is building masts that all mobile network operators can use. The first site under that programme went live in February 2020.