A rural village in East Wales’ Wye Valley has become the first to receive mobile coverage via the UK Government’s £1 billion Shared Rural Network (SRN) scheme.
While it was seemingly difficult to get all the UK MNOs to agree to the terms of the SRN, this is an initiative which should be watched with enthusiasm by other nations. A joint initiative between the Government and the four MNOs, the SRN is an attempt to pool resources to construct operator-neutral passive infrastructure. The power of many should, theoretically, be a more financial sustainable model to meet Government demands for rural mobile coverage.
Today (June 17), Devauden, a small village in the Wye Valley, is the first rural community to receive mobile coverage via the SRN.
“Everyone should have mobile coverage, and everyone should have the benefit of a choice of networks,” said Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffrey. “It is great that the industry has come together to improve coverage across the UK, and I’m proud that we’re leading the way. Our engineering team has done a great job in getting our coverage on to this site, despite the limitations of lockdown.”
“Residents and businesses in Devauden will soon be getting better mobile coverage as it becomes the first village to benefit from our £1 billion deal with mobile phone companies to banish rural ‘not spots’ for good,” said Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman. “Our world-leading Shared Rural Network will bring high-quality 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by 2025 and means people will benefit from a good signal wherever they live, work or travel.”
This is the first community to be hooked up to the SRN, though we suspect this is simply going to be the starting gun on more deployments. From a cynical perspective, this is an easy PR opportunity, on the financial side, it is an opportunity to engage customers cost effectively, and in terms of regulatory commitments, it demonstrates progress to the Government and telecoms watchdog Ofcom.
Ultimately, this is a sign of progress. According to the most recent Ofcom Connected Nations report (December, 2019), 4G coverage is still a challenge.
|4G geographical coverage – December 2019 – Ofcom|
|Coverage as a percentage|
|All four MNOs||66%|
|No coverage from any||9%|
Ofcom estimates that 53,000 premises around the UK are not able to access either a decent home broadband service or get adequate indoor coverage from any MNO.
Getting all four operators north of 90%, and up to the 95% final objective, will be a very expensive task. Network deployment is costly enough in the urban environments where there are plenty of customers to drive ROI, but in the more sparsely populated rural regions it is a daunting prospect.
The MNOs asked the Government for assistance, to set up an agreement which does not place too much of a burden on the spreadsheets as they are simultaneously being asked to aggressively deploy 5G infrastructure. The SRN is a rare example in the telecoms industry of very effective collaboration between public and private entities and should quite rightly be applauded.
Note: And it will come as little surprise that the favourite UK nation has been selected for the first connection to the SRN.