Ofcom wrote to UK operators saying all options are on the table as it looks to solve the perennial problem of rural coverage.

The letter from Sharon White, the regulator’s CEO (pictured), lays out a range of technical and regulatory fixes while also demonstrating Ofcom is thinking big.

“Considering the availability of coverage to 100 per cent of the UK’s geography would stretch our thinking as to what may be possible,” she wrote.

The regulator clearly feels empowered to act because of widespread public dissatisfaction around coverage, particularly outside urban areas.

The letter was sent last month, but was only made public today by Ofcom as part of a wider announcement on extending fixed and mobile broadband coverage.

Some measures are already in place to expand mobile coverage, ranging from the deployment of new technologies to boost indoor coverage, reform of planning rules and opportunities arising from the Emergency Services Network (ESN), said the letter.

Moreover, the regulator added it will consider new obligations as part of the forthcoming auction of sought-after 700MHz frequencies.

“I am keen to examine all available options, including the most radical and ambitious solutions,” said White.

Ofcom will follow the issue through to summer 2017 to see where current investment programmes lead, and then identify options for boosting coverage in the future.

In addition to improving general outdoor coverage, the regulator expects the operator’s work to focus on indoor coverage, and availability alongside transport corridors.

Ofcom’s initiative follows a call by UK market leader EE to counter “incorrect expectations” set by the UK mobile industry around coverage, including a greater focus on geographic coverage. The operator’s words in November came a week after the letter sent by Ofcom.

Connected Nations
Ofcom’s call to arms came as it published its Connected Nations report, which showed 4G geographic coverage of the UK by all operators is now 40 per cent of the total landmass, up from 8 per cent in 2015.

The figure also reflect how operator’s initial deployment of 4G is focused on urban areas: geographic 4G coverage in rural areas is only 37 per cent of landmass, compared to 89 per cent of towns and cities, bearing out the regulator’s concerns.

As part of the same initiative, Ofcom also advised the UK government on how to achieve universal broadband availability for households. The advice covers speed, eligibility, affordability and funding.

The regulator also launched an app, the Ofcom Mobile and Broadband Checker, which checks the performance of a user’s mobile reception, as well as their home broadband. If the app finds a problem with either, it will explain possible causes and provide advice.