O2, Three and Vodafone agree new deal to enhance Northern Ireland's Rural Coverage

  • Mobile operators to build and share 11 masts in Northern Ireland to boost 4G rural coverage.
  • All four nations of the United Kingdom set to benefit from new investment to eliminate Partial Not Spots.
  • This programme will deliver the first stage of the £1bn Shared Rural Network.

O2, Three and Vodafone will partner to build and share 11 new mobile masts in Northern Ireland to improve coverage in rural areas, including Mid Ulster and Fermanagh & Omagh. When completed, the Shared Rural Network* (SRN) will have increased 4G coverage across Northern Ireland to at least 85% of landmass from 75%.

This programme of investment is part of the first stage of the SRN – a £1bn programme to improve rural mobile coverage across the UK that was agreed by the mobile network operators, Government and Ofcom in March 2020.

The construction of the new masts will commence in 2021 and is scheduled to be completed by 2024 in line with the agreement reached with the UK Government and Ofcom.

The three mobile operators will now engage with local stakeholders and other key parties to ensure a timely and efficient roll out that unlocks the benefits of 4G for these rural communities offering customers in very remote areas increased choice and fuller value from their contracts where they live, work or travel.

The exact number and location of masts will be subject to finding suitable sites, obtaining power supply and backhaul and securing the necessary permissions through the planning system.

In addition to this privately funded SRN investment, the Government will also spend over £500m to go even further to eliminate areas where there is no 4G coverage from any operator. This will result in every mobile operator reaching 90% of UK landmass, with a combined coverage of 95%.

Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, said:

“The delivery of the first stage of the Shared Rural network investment will provide a massive boost to rural broadband reliability for people and businesses in Northern Ireland. The improvement of 4G coverage will upgrade access to essential services, through the provision of the infrastructure Northern Ireland needs in order to flourish as part of the UK’s growing digital economy.”

Diane Dodds MLA, Economy Minister, said:

“I very much welcome this partnership investment by three major mobile providers, supported by the UK government, to improve 4G coverage in rural areas in Northern Ireland. Mobile network coverage has never been more important and this initiative will help domestic and business users stay better connected.”

Mark Evans, CEO of O2, said:

“The Shared Rural Network presents a new and more collaborative way of delivering greater investment in infrastructure to improve mobile digital connectivity – a high impact enabler of economic growth.  I am delighted that O2 is working in partnership with other mobile operators to deliver the Shared Rural Network, which will support individuals, businesses and communities across rural Northern Ireland.”

Robert Finnegan, CEO of Three UK, said:

“Mobile connectivity is absolutely critical for communities around the UK helping to support local economies and keeping people connected with their friends and family. The Shared Rural Network will have a transformative effect on coverage in Northern Ireland and it is great to be working with the rest of the industry to achieve this.”

Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK, said:

“We know connectivity is vital and the only way to fill the holes in the UK’s mobile coverage is to work together. Our unique collaboration with O2 and Three will deliver new sites in parts of Northern Ireland that need better connectivity. Delivering the Shared Rural Network will make a huge difference to communities across the UK.”

-ENDS-

* https://www.gov.uk/government/news/shared-rural-network

 Notes for Editors:

  1. The Shared Rural Network is a £1bn programme to improve rural mobile coverage and was agreed by the mobile network operators, Government and Ofcom in March 2020. Funded by the mobile industry and Government, investment will be made in new and existing phone masts to increase all operators’ 4G coverage to at least 90% of UK landmass and their aggregate coverage to 95% by 2026.  It will provide guaranteed coverage to an additional 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads and boost ‘in car’ coverage on around 45,000 km of road and better indoor coverage in around 1.2m business premises and homes.