SNP MP Drew Hendry (pictured) has sent a list of concerns to Ed Vaizey on the coverage pledges made by operators as part of the government’s 2014 mobile coverage deal.
In the letter, seen exclusively by Mobile, the MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey asks the Department for Culture, Media and Sport ministerfor further information on how the success or failure of the pledges will be measured, and on what happens if networks fail to meet them.
The letter states: ‘As an MP for a constituency in the Highlands where mobile coverage continues to be a pressing concern, I seek to better understand how success will be measured and what recourse will be taken should there be a failure by one or more mobile operator to meet the terms of this deal.’
The ‘landmark deal’ made with the four operators included £5 billion of operator infrastructure investment, 90% geographic coverage for calls and texts, full coverage by all operators to reach 85% and reliable signal strength for voice for each type of mobile service (2G, 3G or 4G). The government stated these would be met by 2017.
Replying to Hendry’s letter, the DCMS said networks are on track to meet the targets, though clarified that ‘by 2017’ actually means by the end of 2017 rather than the end of this year.
A spokesperson for the DCMS stated: ‘We’re committed to improving mobile coverage across the UK. The coverage obligations in the agreement reached with mobile network operators in December 2014 are legally binding. They will guarantee voice and text coverage from each operator across 90 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017. This is part of mobile network operators’ licences and so is enforceable by Ofcom.’
However, wireless benchmarking specialists Global Wireless Solutions disagreed that the targets would ensure call coverage, with company CEO Paul Carter saying: ‘It’s a good first step but the targets are very vague, different ones for different bands and geographical locations – they’ll meet them but it won’t guarantee that you’ll get onto the network. It’s helpful to have minimum thresholds but at the same time it’s not comprehensive.’
Building upon the UK governments targets, the Scottish Government launched a ‘Mobile Action Plan’ on 12 June, aiming to use devolved powers to develop the country’s rural infrastructure, such as cutting non-domestic tax rates for new masts in underserved areas, removing and relaxing the planning application process for certain mast types, opening up public sector land to mast building (as in England & Wales already), supporting new technology testing, and additional public sector funding of Emergency Service Network mast alterations to also cover consumers.