Government’s rural 4G programme behind schedule, report warns

22 February 2024, 00:04

A mobile phone next to a telecoms mast
Huawei concerns. Picture: PA

The National Audit Office has warned the scheme could ultimately fail to reach its targets.

The Government’s plans to extend 4G mobile connectivity in rural areas are behind schedule, according to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO).

It said the Shared Rural Network programme funded by the Government and the country’s biggest mobile operators to bring 95% 4G mobile coverage across the UK landmass by 2025 had so far only seen one network meet its interim coverage target, and questions remained over whether the 95% target would be met on time.

The network sees operators sharing infrastructure in order to boost mobile signal in the countryside.

While the report acknowledged that the rollout has been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, opposition from local campaign groups and local authorities’ capacity to handle planning applications, it also said the Government and mobile operators had taken longer than expected to finalise mast locations and to agree other aspects about the sites.

The report warned that estimated costs had also risen, and indicated that these additional pressures mean operators may not be able to deliver the level of coverage required within the current funding.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) business case suggests the scheme will deliver economic benefits of more than £1.35 billion by supporting business and tourism in rural areas.

However, the NAO report said the Government had so far provided limited evidence of the specific business case benefits of extending mobile coverage into sparsely populated areas.

The NAO recommended improving oversight of the mobile operators on the Shared Rural Network scheme to ensure there was sufficient focus on delivering 4G coverage and performance for consumers and businesses.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “Demand for mobile data access is expected to increase as data-intensive services become more popular and new technologies enable new uses, and government has set out a clear ambition for improved connectivity.

“It is unclear whether the Shared Rural Network programme will achieve its coverage target on time; costs are higher than anticipated; and government has not clearly articulated the benefits of aspects of the programme, including increased connectivity in sparsely populated areas.”

Responding to the report, a DSIT spokesperson said: “This is premature.

“The programme remains on track to deliver 95% UK 4G coverage by the end of 2025, with coverage already available across 93% of UK landmass.

“We will continue to work with mobile network operators to ensure the programme is delivered on time and that the crucial coverage improvements are delivered across rural parts of the country.”

By Press Association

More Technology News

See more More Technology News

National Cyber Security Centre launch

National Cyber Security Centre names Richard Horne as new chief executive

The lights on the front panel of a broadband internet router, London.

Virgin Media remains most complained about broadband and landline provider

A person using a laptop

£14,000 being lost to investment scams on average, says Barclays

Europe Digital Rules

Meta unveils latest AI model as chatbot competition intensifies

AI technology

Younger children increasingly online and unsupervised, Ofcom says

Migrant Channel crossing incidents

Ministers will be told to use AI to screen migrants for threats, adviser says

Nothing smartphone

UK tech firm Nothing to integrate ChatGPT into its devices

The Google offices in Six Pancras Square, London

Google confirms more job cuts as part of company reorganisation

Person using laptop

Housing association reprimanded after residents’ data compromised

A screengrab of an arrest in connection with the LabHost website

Arrests made and thousands of victims contacted after scammer site taken offline

Social media apps on a smartphone

Three-quarters of public fear misinformation will affect UK elections – report

Businessman racing with a robot

TUC calls for AI to be regulated in the workplace

The ChatGPT website

AI chatbot ‘could be better at assessing eye problems than medics’

FastRig wingsail launch

Scottish-made wingsail set for sea tests after launch on land


Rollout of eVisas begins as Government aims for digital immigration by 2025

Elon Musk in 2024

X may start charging new users to post, says Elon Musk