The Government announced on 9 March that it had signed the deal with the Mobile Network Operators to deliver the Shared Rural Network programme, which will see them collectively increase 4G coverage throughout the United Kingdom to 95% by end-2025. The Shared Rural Network is a programme to improve 4G coverage across the landmass of the UK, rather than offshore. As a result of the Shared Rural Network, it is possible that offshore coverage may be improved near ports or ferry routes, or adjacent to coastal population centres. This is not guaranteed, however, because exact deployment plans will be managed by the Mobile Network Operators themselves, in order for them to best deliver the coverage outcomes for the programme. Furthermore, the current 4G spectrum licenses issued by Ofcom to the Mobile Network Operators limit 4G coverage to the UK and the UK Territorial Sea (up to 12 nautical miles).
At the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019, the UK signed an international treaty ensuring global coordination of radio spectrum frequencies. These regulations are of great importance to the international maritime community because they help minimise the likelihood of interference and allow for the unconditional operation of critical nautical safety communications. However, these regulations also impose certain measures to limit interference between countries and can therefore impact on 4G offshore coverage potential for fishing vessels.
DCMS supports improvements in maritime communications and is currently monitoring developments in alternative communications technologies that could provide better connectivity to fishing vessels, where coverage from land based systems is limited. Some vessels may already have these technologies installed for safety related requirements.
DCMS also recognises the importance of the maritime sector for the UK economy and is aware of its dependence on suitable maritime communications services. We will continue to work closely with Ofcom and other government departments to ensure the interests of this sector in telecoms are adequately considered.