Mobile network expansion or a decision to build a mast in any particular location is a commercial matter for operators, driven largely by competition and consumer demand. It is subject to local planning processes (under guidance set by the Department for Communities and Local Government www.communities.gov.uk) and Ofcom has no statutory duties in this area.
However improving mobile coverage for consumers is a priority area for Ofcom and one of our tools is to place overall coverage requirements in the licences held by mobile operators. For 2G and 3G networks, all cellular operators have met the initial coverage requirements that were set when their licences were first granted. Further coverage requirements that have since come into effect are described below.
Following a Government Direction to Ofcom, the terms of 3G licences (which have since been liberalised to facilitate the future use of other technologies) were varied to increase the requirement to cover 80% of the UK population to the new level of 90% by June 2013. This coverage, which has been met by all operators, may be achieved by a combination of technologies and frequencies from any of the licences held by a licensee.
The 800 MHz spectrum licence won by Telefónica in the 2013 4G award contains the requirement to cover, by the end of 2017, at least 98 % of the UK population including at least 95% of the population in each of the four UK nations. Other operators have said they intend to match this level of coverage.
In January 2015, following discussions between Government and mobile operators, the 900 and 1800 MHz licences of Vodafone, Telefónica and EE were varied to include a voice coverage requirement.
Ofcom’s research and work on improving coverage continues in addition to which we publish information and interactive coverage maps to help keep consumers informed of the latest position.