Government upgrade dials up 4G coverage in Lake District

10th April 2024
Sheryl Miles

Rural towns and villages in the Lake District have become the first in England to benefit as government delivers on its plan to improve 4G mobile coverage in hard-to-reach areas.  

The first of 83 government-funded mast upgrades planned in England were switched on on the 9th April 2024, near the market town of Keswick in Cumbria.   

It means dozens of local businesses and community organisations in areas including Naddle, Thirlmere, and St Johns-in-the-Vale, can now take advantage of better connectivity thanks to the Shared Rural Network – a £1 billion programme brokered by the government and joint-funded with mobile network operators aimed at increasing mobile coverage in rural areas.

The boost has been carried out by upgrading existing mobile masts which previously only connected EE customers and anyone making 999 calls, meaning communities can benefit from improved connectivity without the visual impact involved when building new masts.

It will enable residents, tourists, and businesses to access reliable 4G coverage from all four mobile network operators – EE, VMO2, Three, and Vodafone – closing the connectivity blackhole and boosting economic growth in the region.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez, said: “We’re dialling up fast and reliable mobile coverage across the UK through the Shared Rural Network. Our latest upgrade in the Lake District is one of many we’re working hard to deliver as part of our mission to clamp down on the headache of mobile ‘not spots’.  

“The coverage boost will provide endless benefits for communities and visitors, ensuring people stay connected on the go, enabling people to work more efficiently and attracting vital investment to the rural economy.” 

Ben Roome, CEO of Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL), said: “In England, since the Shared Rural Network was announced in March 2020, 4G coverage from all four operators has expanded across an additional 5,400 square kilometres  an area larger than Norfolk. As more shared mobile sites go live, people visiting and living in rural areas will see better 4G service thanks to this programme.” 

Today marks an important milestone in the rollout of the Shared Rural Network aiming to bring reliable 4G signal to 95% of UK landmass by the end of 2025.   

Since the Shared Rural Network programme began in 2020, an additional 13,000sq km – roughly the size of Northern Ireland or two million football pitches – have been able to receive coverage from all four operators, EE, Three, VMO2, and Vodafone.

The government and the UK’s four mobile network operators aim to provide coverage to an additional 280,000 premises and 16,000km of the UK’s roads.

The programme also aims to improve geographic coverage to 79% of Areas of Natural Beauty, up from 51% before the programme launched, and 74% of National Parks up from 41%, benefitting millions of visitors every year.   

The UK government is investing around £500 million into the Shared Rural Network, including £184 million to upgrade Extended Area Service (EAS) masts to provide coverage from all four mobile operators. Currently, commercial coverage from EAS masts is only available from EE – the operator responsible for the Emergency Services Network. The remaining government funding will go towards eliminating total ‘not spots’, places where there is no coverage from any mobile operator.   

The telecoms sector is also investing over £500 million to target partial ‘not spots’, where customers can only access 4G if they’re signed up with a mobile network operator that is active in the area. This part of the programme has already delivered significant coverage improvements across the UK, including in the areas of Shetland, Yorkshire, Fermanagh, and Devon.

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