Three UK has rolled out mobile coverage to 100 sites under the government's shared rural network programme, shoehorning a quick mention of the benefits of its proposed merger with Vodafone into the announcement.

Mary Lennighan

August 7, 2023

3 Min Read
Three UK uses SRN milestone to push Vodafone merger

Three UK has rolled out mobile coverage to 100 sites under the government’s shared rural network programme, shoehorning a quick mention of the benefits of its proposed merger with Vodafone into the announcement.

The mobile operator said the sites it has deployed across all four home nations will provide 4G connectivity to more than 37,000 premises across 2,800 square kilometres. Much of the action is in Scotland though. 65 of Three UK’s 100 shared rural network (SRN) sites are in Scotland, with 12,500 premises covered in total.

Three did not specifically state where its 100th site is located, but did make special mention of the Isle of Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides close to the Scottish mainland. The island now has 93% 4G coverage, where previously there was none, it said; that’s 150-plus premises in an area of 41 square kilometres.

The whole point of the SRN is to provide decent mobile services to difficult-to-reach areas. The UK government pushed the mobile operators into signing up to it in 2020, setting a goal of extending 4G coverage to 95% of the UK landmass by 2025. It’s a £1 billion-plus project, with the state providing £500 million and the telcos themselves £530 million.

Despite that half-billion-pound sweetener, the telcos are still keen to highlight what an effort it is to get 4G to tricky places though.

“The 100th site in Three’s SRN network is another significant milestone and will transform rural access to 4G. We continue to deliver on our commitments, but the locations we are focusing on are remote and challenging, and we continue to work with local authorities to try and progress as best as possible,” said Iain Milligan, Chief Network Officer of Three UK, in a statement.

“In addition to the 4G coverage improvement afforded through SRN network deployments, following Three UK’s agreement with Vodafone UK to combine their businesses, UK connectivity will be further enhanced,” Three added. It reiterated that the merged Vodafone/Three has pledged to roll out 5G to 86% of the UK population by 2030, including 400 small towns that might get earlier access to new-generation mobile than they would have otherwise.

You may well wonder what that has to do with the SRN milestone. The answer, of course, is nothing at all: Three just didn’t want to miss an opportunity to trumpet what it and Vodafone have decided will be the consumer benefit of their merger, should it be allowed to go ahead. And by cramming that statistic – which is about 5G in easy-to-reach areas – into its SRN announcement, Three is hoping that the two things will lodge themselves in our brains as analogous, when in fact one is a genuine state-backed project to get fairly basic mobile data to far-flung places and the other is a business deal that will primarily benefit the two operators taking part in it.

When they announced their merger plan in June Vodafone and Three talked about “more choice and better value to customers.” But whether that will really be the case, or more to the point whether there is a danger of harm to competition and a detrimental impact on customers, is a decision for the UK authorities.

Given the pace of regulatory decision-making, we could be in for a fair wait for an answer. In the meantime, we can expect to see the customer benefits of the tie-up trotted out by both companies at every opportunity.

 

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About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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