Is the UK sleep-walking into a two-tier technological society?

On the 25th October 2019 the UK government issued a press release stating that there is a “£1 billion deal set to solve poor mobile coverage”. It raised more questions than answers particularly around the distinction between rural and urban.

What does the Rural Economy Gain?

Mobile network operators (EE, Three, Vodafone, O2) have committed to invest £530M to open up mast sharing in areas to address the, mainly rural, issue of partial not spots where there is only 1 provider. Once this has been completed a further £500M will be made available to the mobile industry for them to work to remove full not spots (no provider) through further investment.

The deal promises to get 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025. Just consider each of the figures. So the rural economy gets a choice of 4G provider if they are not in the 5% still not covered and this is achieved over the next 6 years (when 4G was launched in October 2012 in the UK).

Ofcom followed up with the rules for the 5G airwaves auction and inadvertently reduced the target

“Following the British Government’s announcement that the four mobile network operators have committed to deliver good quality 4G coverage to at least 92% (sic) of the UK over six years, through a ‘Shared Rural Network’, we no longer propose including coverage obligations in the auction design.”

4G vs 5G The Numbers


4G (UK Average)

5G (Indicated by Standard)


14.7 Mbps

20,480 Mbps (Peak)


13.6 Mbps

10,250 Mbps (Peak)


53.1 m/s

1 m/s (end to end 5G)

Measuring mobile broadband performance in the UK 4G and 3G network performance (2015)

5G the complete guide (Gemalto / Thales)

4G and 5G are a massive step change. Whilst the Mobile Network Operators (MNO) are working hard to gain market control of 5G consumers by focusing on speed and demand. They are not in the businesses of selling Internet of Things that have a wider societal benefits.

5G is not predominantly about speed, but about the ability to wireless move data at scale rapidly. The possibility of 1 m/s end to end 5G will be the baseline for self-driving cars, Internet of Things medical services, eg always connected ambulances with video links to hospital specialists in transit.

Whilst the MNOs will continue to chase urban environments with great commercial opportunities the UK government has wound back its commitment to rural connectivity, by “guaranteeing” us outdated technology is delivered by 2025. And let us not forget the service is 2 Mbps minimum download and a good voice call.

When will the rural economy benefit from 5G?

Simply we don’t know, what we do know is that the bar seems to be set at 4G therefore 5G could be another 10 to 15 years.

This stands a real chance of hindering rural technological development built around 5G. How will this impact, rural services, retention of working age populations, agritech development or even managing rural to urban commuters? And does it exclude rural from Industry 4.0?

March 2020 Update

On March 18th Ofcom published details of how it will assess mobile companies’ compliance with the coverage commitments in the Shared Rural Network agreement between Government and the mobile network operators.

This followed the 9 March Government announcement that it had reached agreement with the four mobile network operators – BT/EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – to develop the Shared Rural Network. This will involve each of the four operators delivering good 4G coverage to 88% of the landmass by 2024, and 90% of the UK’s landmass by 2026.

It appears that the October targets were therefore optimistic and a two tier is now more likely.