The Chancellor George Osborne today announced (3 October) that the Government will invest up to £150m to improve the coverage and quality of mobile phone services.
The aim is to reach the 5% to 10% of consumers and businesses that live and work in areas of the UK where existing mobile coverage is poor or non-existent.
The procurement of additional mobile phone mast sites to increase coverage will begin in 2012.
The Government has yet to reveal how the money will be dispensed and to which organisations. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will ‘announce further details in due course’.
Ovum principal analyst Jeremy Green commented: 'Once again, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer has found £150m hidden in the back of a drawer, which is suddenly available for spending despite the overall tightness of funds and the need to deal with the unsustainable public debt. Last week there was £250 million for weekly bin collections; this week it is £150 million for blackspots in mobile network coverage.
'The announcement is perplexing. While £250m might buy quite a lot of dustmen, £150m doesn't buy much mobile phone coverage. It's hard to know what the justification is for giving public money to profitable private companies (most of them foreign-owned) to help them to do something that the regulatory framework and licence obligations should be inducing them to do anyway.
'And it is not at all clear how the money will be used to buy the little coverage it will provide. Will this be a straightforward hand-out to the network operators? Or will it go to an entity like Arqiva, which provides shared resources to the operators? If that's a good model, maybe it should be extended so that even more coverage can be provided, even in the absence of government funding.'
Alastair Davidson, Managing Director - Government, Mobile & Enterprise at Arqiva said: 'Arqiva welcomes today’s announcement by the Government that it will invest in extending mobile coverage, which complements the support the Government is already providing for extending broadband provision.
'We trust the Government will maximise the benefits of this new funding by extending it to mobile broadband coverage, rather than just limiting it to mobile voice.
'The same people who don’t have mobile voice are often the same people who struggle to get fixed broadband, or find that it’s far too slow.
'We fully support the Government’s intention to ensure that more people can share the opportunities of today’s connected, digital society. Mobile broadband is an effective and cost-efficient part of the solution to this challenge – particularly cost-efficient where the operators share the same masts.'