BT Group’s chief security and networks officer Howard Watson hit out at rivals’ slow progress in meeting UK government Shared Rural Network (SRN) targets, after EE last week claimed it had completed the first phase of work six months ahead of schedule.

In a blog, Watson highlighted the importance of expanding mobile coverage to rural areas through SRN, a £1 billion initiative requiring the country’s four major operators to build or upgrade 4G infrastructure to eliminate partial not-spots.

With EE claiming it became the first operator to complete the initial stage of work ahead of a deadline in June, Watson argued it had delivered “in the face of tough economic conditions, a global pandemic and a wide range of digital transformation within our own networks”.

He said it was, therefore, surprising to see O2 UK, Vodafone UK and 3 UK using “those very same problems” as an excuse “for their slow progress”

The executive also hit out at CTOs “of those same companies”, who reportedly approached government ministers with an “an unwelcome request” for extra support to meet the targets.

Watson acknowledged disruption can happen, citing the impact of Covid-19 (coronavirus) on “personnel and supply chains”, but argued such impacts were felt equally by all operators and that BT had “made difficult decisions” to prioritise its commitment.

“EE entered the SRN agreement clear-eyed, understanding the deployment environment and the difficulties we would undoubtedly face.” 

The National Audit Office is set to conclude a review into the programme in February, with the provision of the project expected to be debated in Parliament this week. 

“Scrutiny of Government policy matters and installing mobile infrastructure in more rural and remote parts of the UK is always challenging. But EE’s efforts shows where there’s a willingness to prioritise investment to meet the coverage promises you’ve made, it should be delivered,” Watson added.