A triumvirate of the United Kingdom’s key mobile network operators – Vodafone, VMO2, and Three – have issued a collective plea to the government, requesting more leniency regarding their impending coverage deadlines. Their request comes on the heels of a joint letter uncovered by the Telegraph.
As part of the Shared Rural Network (SRN) scheme, these providers are racing against a mandate to offer 88% geographical coverage by June 2024. Interestingly, EE, another network giant, has refrained from soliciting for more time, as they are confident they will meet their target.
The SRN project has been championed by the UK government, with the aim of obliterating coverage ‘not-spots.’ The blueprint involves expanding 4G coverage – ideally giving consumers the liberty to choose from any of the four providers. ‘Partial not-spots’ have been given undivided attention, and while no public funding is injected into this phase, the ultimate objective involves blending £500 million of taxpayer’s money to cover even the most secluded spots of Scotland, aiming for 95% geographical coverage.
The government intends to wrap up the SRN project by 2027. However, the current struggle faced by three out of the four operators to meet their interim targets strains this timeline. VMO2 confidently declared it’s nearing its individual targets, while Vodafone expressed steadfast dedication to the project. On the other hand, Three attributed its lag to the pandemic.
EE proposed site sharing at competitive rates but seems their counterparts prefer coupling their efforts to erect new ones. While it might be a sensible call for businesses, missing their targets puts these operators in an uncomfortable spot. As of now, Vodafone and Three are experiencing most of the heat. Despite recently echoing their audacious 5G coverage plans—which they fronted as a key motive for their merger—the recent developments could possibly dent their campaign.
While their struggle to meet coverage benchmarks could be a mild embarrassment for these operators, it doesn’t spell a large-scale crisis. The government is likely to extend the deadlines with a proverbial rolling of the eyes, while critics might seize the opportunity to challenge the impending Vodafone Three marriage. This story adds another chapter to the ongoing narrative of infrastructure challenges, but for now we eagerly await the government’s response.