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UK 5G and full fibre to receive £6 billion budget windfall

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The government has announced a series of multi-billion-pound measures designed to boost Britain’s digital infrastructure, including a guaranteed extension of 4G services in rural areas.

Confirmed only days ahead of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s first budget, the Conservatives will stay true to their election manifesto to provide “gigabit-capable” fibre broadband for all businesses and homes, ploughing £5 billion into faster broadband across the country and a further £1 billion to deliver 4G coverage to 95% of the country by 2025.

Part of what Sunak has termed the UK’s “decade of renewal”, the investments are part of a budget that places heavy focus on innovation and technology.

In a Tweet posted over the weekend, Sunak’s office said: “Britain has a proud history of innovation, it's 3 days until the Budget that invests in the scientific achievements of the future.”

With regards to mobile coverage, four networks have committed to the legally binding Shared Rural Network agreement, with private sector investment of £532m to close almost all partial not-spots. A further £500 million will be invested by government to eliminate total not-spots.

A statement from the Treasury said that four MNOs will deliver 95% combined coverage across the whole of the UK by the end of 2025 and that “consumers can rely on their own provider’s network wherever they are”.

In real terms, Scotland will see 4G coverage increase from around 40% currently to 90%, depending on the provider, and the Lake District is in line to see a “doubling” of 4G coverage over the coming five years, according to digital secretary Oliver Dowden (see table).

Dowden said the £1 billion extension of 4G services was part of delivering on PM Boris Johnson’s “100-day promise” to sign a “landmark deal with industry to end poor and patchy mobile rural coverage”.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast on 9 March, he said: “This is a package being signed by me today with half the funds coming from the private sector and half from government, and it will ensure a transformation in rural coverage.

“This is really important in terms of our levelling up agenda and this is a huge step forward. We are starting this year with roll out by 2025. We can guarantee that 95% of the country will have coverage by 2025.  

“There will still be very remote areas with no coverage but this will be a transformation,” Dowden added.

In short, the agreement will see mobile network operators (MNOs) each provide

  • 88% coverage of the UK by 2024;

  • 90% coverage of the UK by 2026;

  • Nation-specific coverage targets in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales by 2026;

  • Additional coverage to 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads by 2026.

 

Country

Target

Current coverage

Scotland

 

91% coverage from at least one operator, 74% total coverage from all four

80% from one operator, 42% from all four

Wales

 

95% from at least one operator, 80% from all four

89% from one operator, 58% from all four

England

 

98% coverage to be achieved from at least one operator, 90% from all four

97% from one operator and 81% from all four

Northern Ireland

 

98% from at least one operator and 85% from all four

97% from one operator and 75% from all four

Together this means all four mobile network operators will deliver 95% combined coverage across the whole of the UK by the end of 2025.

The Treasury clarified: “The programme would be delivered jointly by all four MNOs but it is expected that organisations across the industry would have the opportunity to get involved in the delivery of the programme at various levels of the supply chain, building the required infrastructure in an open, fair and transparent way.”

Enforcement of the deadlines will be overseen by Ofcom, which will have the power to issue fines of up to 10% of an operator’s gross revenue.

 

 

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