Sonera and DNA – the second- and third-largest mobile operators in Finland respectively – have struck a network sharing deal aimed at extending their coverage into the country’s rural areas on a more cost-efficient basis.

Another motivation for TeliaSonera (which owns Sonera) is that regulators require it to reach 99 per cent of Finland’s population with 4G by end 2018.

The joint ventue (JV), called Suomen Yhteisverkko, is to build and operate a common radio access network on behalf of both mobile operators using 2G, 3G and 4G technologies. Although it will own the radio network equipment, the JV is to rent masts and base station facilities from its parent companies or third parties.

The JV is expected to start operating in the beginning of 2015 and focus on the sparsely-populated areas of Northern and Eastern Finland. They make up 50 per cent of the country’s total area, but only 15 per cent of the population live there.

The two operators will also combine their 800MHz frequency blocks to offer faster 4G connections and more capacity to their rural customers. Both Sonera and DNA say there’s still scope to compete with each other on services across their common footprint.

“We have positive experiences from network sharing in other markets,” said Robert Andersson, head of TeliaSonera Europe. “Thanks to the cooperation with DNA we can deliver on our promise to have the best network in Finland faster.”

Sonera will own 51 per cent of the JV and DNA 49 per cent. TeliaSonera nonetheless points out it will “be jointly controlled, and equally governed by the consensus principle”.

Antti Jokinen, previously head of Networks at DNA, has been appointed CEO of the JV.

Privately-held DNA was reportedly looking for a buyer last year but those plans were dropped – as was an IPO – apparently on the grounds of difficult market conditions.