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Gov to spread mobile masts to remote corners of Blighty

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The UK's Chancellor has confirmed that the government will sink £150m into buying up cell sites with the intention of extending rural coverage to 99 per cent of the population.

Ofcom will advise the government on how it should go about spending our cash on sites for base stations to be utilised by multiple operators, with the intention of creating greater coverage for existing networks and encouraging operators to roll out next-generation services to the edges of the UK.

Details are still scant, with more to come from the Department of Fun (properly Culture, Media and Sport) at some future point, but the basic idea is to buy up sites during 2012 and make them commonly available by early 2013. Operators will be able to move in cheaply, to provide service to the six million or so people who currently aren't getting blanket coverage today, hopefully with 3G or 4G services, but at least 2G.

Other countries have subsidised rollouts before, particularly those with dispersed populations, but generally by paying one operator to build a network and mandating that customers of other networks be allowed to roam onto it. That's quick and simple, but only provides a single technology and reduces competitive pressure to increase coverage.

So the UK plan will probably involve hiring Arqiva or similar to build cell sites, and then rent them out cheaply to operators who can deploy whatever technology they see fit. If the UK's 4G auction manages to go ahead as planned that should be LTE, as it offers greater flexibility and (at 800MHz) greater range than 2G, but even if the auction gets delayed another year or two we should see 2G deployed or perhaps 3G in 2G frequencies.

So we'll be able to stay connected to Twitter from the mountains of the Highlands through the Lakes and down to the coastline of Cornwall, for only a hundred and fifty million quid - quite a bargain. ®

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