A government project that would have seen £150m being spent on improving UK mobile phone coverage has run into difficulties after it was revealed that it could only bring about a fraction of the improvements originally promised.
One of Britain’s four mobile networks with its own infrastructure, Three, has decided against signing up to the plan, citing concerns about the service it would be able to deliver if it were to take part. Three, which has 8 million customers across the country, has delayed any decision about its involvement until after an auction of 4G networks is concluded next year.
Chancellor George Osborne, who has championed the scheme, said that it would “improve coverage for 6 million people”. However, the plan was proven to be breaking rules stating that government money cannot be used to give an advantage to private companies.
Masts were to be erected in rural areas with poor coverage but civil servants have now ruled that the money can only be used to improve service in areas which receive no signal at all. If the equipment was to be installed in regions covered by only one network then the government money could then be considered to be aiding that particular company.
With these limits in place the scheme will now only improve service for a maximum of 60,000 premises and ten key roads, including the A2 in Northern Ireland.
Around 3% of UK homes and small businesses do not receive coverage from all four major mobile networks, with around 1% lacking any signal at all.