A £150m Government project to bring mobile coverage to six million people living in rural areas is under threat after Three reportedly cooled its interest in the plans.
The operator is said to have told civil servants it is not prepared to put equipment on masts paid for by the Government's mobile infrastructure project. It has pushed back its decision on whether it will join the project until after the forthcoming 4G auction, which is due to take place early next year.
Three was not allocated the chunk of sub-1GHz spectrum it had been seeking. Low frequency spectrum can travel further than higher frequency, meaning it requires fewer masts to provide coverage. However, a spokesperson for the operator told Mobile it was still engaged with the process.
The Government appears to have scaled back its ambitions for the project. When it was first announced in October, Chancellor George Osborne said the £150m investment would 'improve coverage for six million people'. Osborne claimed that across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, there is only 90% coverage, with 95% across the UK as a whole. However, the project will now cover only 60,000 premises in 'complete not-spot areas' and 10 roads across the UK.
An invitation for companies to tender for the project was expected this month but a spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport told The Guardian it would now be published 'in due course'. The spokesperson added: 'The focus of the project is on maximising the number of people benefiting from the investment, as far as reasonably possible. It is still our aim to cover the majority of the premises and key roads situated in complete not-spot areas.'
Editor: Graeme Neill