Government announces investment to increase mobile coverage

Consumers in 99.7% of the UK’s premises (homes and offices) can already make and receive phone calls and send and receive text messages using mobile connections from at least one operator.

However, some premises, typically in more sparsely populated areas, still do not have outdoor  2G mobile coverage from any operator. These premises are defined as being in a ‘complete mobile not-spot ’ (see Figure 5.20 for a map of complete not-spots).

These complete not-spots primarily exist because it is much more expensive per premise for mobile network operators to cover these areas, due to a sparse population density and/or hilly terrain (which can cause obstructions to mobile signals, meaning signals are able to travel less far). The market on its own is unlikely to supply mobile services to all these not-spots because of the high incremental cost of building mobile infrastructure to cover these areas.

However, the government believes that providing widespread mobile phone coverage is essential to drive benefits for local economies by encouraging business growth and access to online public services. To help drive these benefits, in October 2011 George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced  that the government would invest up to £150m towards the capital expenditure costs of improving mobile coverage in what has become known as the Mobile Infrastructure Project, or MIP.

MIP is an important part of the government’s National Infrastructure Plan , which details major commitments to improve both transport and broadband networks as well as attracting private-sector investment, which the government believes will help stimulate economic growth.
MIP aims to extend mobile voice coverage to many of the homes and businesses in complete not-spots by building new mobile sites. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is in discussions with all four mobile operators to provide mobile voice services from all MIP sites.

The government is currently in the process of procuring a supplier for MIP. The supplier that wins the contract will be responsible for designing, building and operating the new infrastructure. The government expects the additional coverage to be in place by 2015, with the benefits starting to be realised from 2013.

MIP also aims to improve mobile coverage on the UK’s major roads. The government has identified ten key roads that it will target – all of which have significant stretches in complete not-spots. The roads are located in all four nations: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales (see Figure 5.21). This additional road coverage may also improve mobile coverage to homes and businesses in towns and villages near these roads.

Ofcom has played an important role in identifying the location of not-spots and is continuing to support the government in delivering MIP.