Creating a network that works for everybody

Karl Liriano, Head of Network Evolution

It’s that time of year again. When Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard are taken over by Countryfile Live.

An event created to celebrate the best of British countryside, it’s full of British favourites. From showjumping and dog shows to yoga with the National Trust and a wildlife zone for kids, it’s a true celebration of what the countryside has to offer.

As the proud connectivity provider we’re providing free wifi and enhanced 4G coverage around both North and South festivals, and this week I’m speaking at Countryfile North alongside a number of colleagues.

We partner with events like this because we believe in the power of connectivity, not just in urban areas, but throughout the countryside. If British Business is to prosper it has to be connected.

That’s why we invest over £2 million a day on our 4G network. An investment that means we now cover 19,000 cities, towns and villages across the UK.

It’s not always been an easy job. From flying network masts into mountainous areas by helicopter to connecting Saxa Vord, the most northerly point, we’re working relentlessly to connect communities.

We had many triumphs. Take Staylittle in Wales, for example. The most cut off village in Britain, residents had no way of communicating with the outside world when their landline services were cut off in 2016.

We installed the first permanent 4G mast to the village and when we went back to see how it had impacted their lives the response was overwhelming. We heard how people had permanent access to friends and family and had even set up their own successful online businesses. The mast had not only improved their lives, but contributed to the UK economy.

But we know that we haven’t gone far enough. O2’s 4G coverage for UK premises is almost universal, but only 67% of the landmass receives 4G coverage from all four operators. Further, 7% of the UK receives no 4G coverage from any operator.

That’s why we’ve been working with the Government and the other operators to come up with a strategy that could see the creation of a ‘Shared Rural Network’.

Through sharing our infrastructure, we could potentially increase 4G landmass coverage (where all four operators are present) from 67% to 92% by 2025. ‘Partial Not Spots’ may almost all disappear entirely, and over 3,700sq miles of the UK could, for the first time, be covered by 4G.

By creating a Shared Rural Network, we could bridge the digital divide in the most cost effective, efficient, timely and environmentally friendly way.

The only way this will be successfully delivered, however, is if industry and government work together. Our CEO Mark Evans recently called on Government and Ofcom to play their part in delivering the Shared Rural Network, and ongoing discussions have so far been promising. As we transition to a new Government, we must continue to ensure that accelerating coverage in rural areas remains a top priority for the DCMS.

Only by doing this can we make sure that mobile connectivity is accessible to everybody, wherever they are in the country.