Ofcom said it has varied the licences of the UK's four mobile operators following an agreement reached between the government and the operators in December to improve mobile coverage across the country.
The UK regulator said the licence variations commit the four operators to provide voice coverage across 90 per cent of the UK's landmass by the end of 2017. In December 2014, Vodafone UK, O2 UK, EE and Three UK agreed to invest £5 billion (€6.6 billion/$7.5 billion) to plug so-called mobile 'not spots'.
The licence variations mean that the operators not only commit to 90 per cent coverage for voice and SMS services by the end of 2017 but also agree to meet signal strength thresholds. Ofcom added that it would carry out its usual procedures to measure compliance against these thresholds.
It was also suggested in December that the agreement to plug rural coverage gaps could end ongoing uncertainty over an Ofcom revaluation of 2G licence fees; Ofcom has now confirmed that it would shortly consult further on the annual licence fees for the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum bands "in light of these variations" in the licences.
In August last year, Ofcom backtracked on earlier plans to increase 2G licence fees.
The December agreement was also greeted as a better alternative to a proposed national roaming network that the government considered to plug coverage gaps.
That a solution to plug mobile "not spots" was required appears to be backed up by UK government information, which estimates that a fifth of citizens have little or no mobile coverage.
An Ofcom consumer study conducted in March and April 2014 also found that 59 per cent classed mobile voice or SMS services as essential, based on interviews with 1,997 people.
- see this Ofcom announcement
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