UK Parliament slams government oversight of SRN

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts says ‘public reporting of mobile connectivity across the UK is not fit for purpose’.

Scott Bicheno

May 30, 2024

4 Min Read

As if the outgoing UK government didn’t have enough to worry about, the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts has published a report that is highly critical of its oversight of the Shared Rural Network scheme. The aim of the SRN is to achieve 95% geographical 4G coverage by the end of 2025 but, while we’re currently at 93%, the committee fears that tricky last bit won’t be achieved.

“Three of the four mobile network operators have already advised the Department [DSIT] that they are each unlikely to meet interim obligations, set by Ofcom, to increase their own 4G coverage to 88% of the UK landmass by 30 June 2024,” says the report. It also notes that there has been no publicly communicated plan for what to do about the 5% that still won’t be covered by the SRN in the unlikely event that it eventually keeps its promises.

“Public reporting of mobile connectivity across the UK is not fit for purpose,” continues the report. “Ofcom’s data for measuring connectivity often does not reflect people’s experience. People often experience worse coverage than reported because of local geography or building materials used within premises. The Department itself lacks information on whether mobile network operators are on track to meet targets to improve connectivity for road users and premises, and has insufficient data to judge whether connectivity on UK railways is improving.”

Pretty damning stuff. Ofcom’s failings are largely the fault of the government too, having redirected the comms regulator towards censoring the internet and unfashionable TV stations rather than, say, regulating communications networks. The likely winners of the imminent UK general election are, if anything, even more authoritarian and censorious than the current lot, so expect Ofcom’s traditional responsibilities to be even more neglected in years to come.

Here are the recommendations the report makes, which the beleaguered government apparently has two months to respond to.

Recommendation 1: The Department and BDUK should work closely with the mobile network operators to ensure that government:

  • Gets the information it needs from the operators to gain certainty on the cost increases; and

  • Uses this information to inform decisions on how cost increases will be managed while at the same time ensuring that coverage targets are met.

  • Fully considers emerging new technologies such as low orbiting satellites to ensure investments produce the most cost-effective results.

Recommendation 2: Now that the proposed locations of Shared Rural Network masts are more certain, the Department should revisit its cost benefit analysis to determine more precisely who will benefit, and how, from its investment in 4G connectivity. It should use this information to inform final decisions on mast locations and numbers and to communicate the case for investment to stakeholders.

Recommendation 3: With clearer information about the proposed location of masts, the Department should now confirm which areas of the UK will still not have 4G connectivity once the Shared Rural Network programme is complete. It should assess the impact of this on communities in these areas and develop a plan for alternative ways of ensuring they get the connectivity they need.

Recommendation 4: The Department should take urgent action to ensure that it has meaningful data on mobile coverage that reflects people’s actual experience. As part of this it should:

  • Work with Ofcom to develop ways that consumers and businesses can directly report coverage gaps in real-time to help build a more realistic and detailed picture of mobile coverage across the UK;

  • Ask Ofcom to examine any cases where areas have lost all mobile connectivity following 3G switch off; and

  • Ensure that mechanisms for measuring access to 5G coverage are fit for purpose.

Recommendation 5: The Department should work with Ofcom and the mobile network operators to ensure that it can report publicly on progress against its targets for increasing 4G connectivity on roads and premises.

Recommendation 6: Working with Ofcom and the Department for Transport, the Department should make a plan for more frequent collection of coverage data on the UK rail network to help it prioritise the rail lines where improvements in coverage is most needed. This information should be published on a regular basis so that rail travellers have clearer information on the coverage they will experience.

Recommendation 7: The Department should set out more clearly what it has achieved from its investment to date in 5G, as well as setting more meaningful and measurable targets for assessing its progress in supporting the roll-out of standalone 5G mobile coverage.

Don’t hold your breath.

About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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