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Vodafone Hits Milestone with 200th Rural Site Activation Amid UK Coverage Pressure

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Vodafone has achieved a significant milestone in the UK’s Shared Rural Network (SRN) initiative, announcing the activation of its 200th site. This accomplishment marks a notable improvement from the 57 sites operational a year ago, underlining the urgency faced by the country’s major mobile network operators (MNOs) to meet rural coverage obligations.

Located in the small village of Combe in West Berkshire, the newly activated site reflects efforts to expand coverage to remote areas. Despite Combe’s diminutive size, characterized by sparse population and spacious properties, its proximity to Vodafone’s Newbury headquarters underscores strategic deployment decisions.

The SRN scheme, with a budget of £1 billion, mandates MNOs to provide 4G coverage to 88 percent of the UK’s landmass by June. However, challenges exacerbated by the pandemic have prompted Vodafone, Virgin Media O2 (VMO2), and Three to request deadline extensions. A recent National Audit Office (NAO) report highlighted uncertainties regarding meeting targets on time, citing escalated estimated costs.

While Vodafone refrains from disclosing its proximity to fulfilling Ofcom’s coverage obligation, the existence of the unaltered target suggests ongoing negotiations for possible extensions. Meanwhile, EE stands out for its early attainment of this milestone, having deployed 1,600 rural sites by January through its in-house 4G upgrade program, contributing to SRN progress.

However, EE’s unique circumstances, including its prior involvement in the Emergency Services Network (ESN) contract, complicate direct comparisons with other operators. Despite individual achievements, the overarching success of the SRN initiative remains uncertain, emphasizing the need for sustained efforts to bridge coverage gaps.

Vodafone’s milestone serves as a testament to progress but underscores the pressing need for comprehensive solutions to ensure equitable access to mobile connectivity across rural regions. As the June deadline approaches, the spotlight remains on MNOs’ ability to deliver on commitments amid ongoing challenges and scrutiny from regulators and stakeholders alike.

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