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U.K. Appoints Builder Of Rural Mobile Booster Network

Government's plan to boost cell and mobile broadband coverage in "not spots" finally in motion after two-year delay.

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The British dream of eradicating "not spots" -- intermittent cell and mobile broadband coverage in rural areas -- has edged a bit closer to reality with a £150 million ($230 million) deal between the government and telco equipment supplier Arqiva.

In January 2012, the government unveiled its mobile infrastructure project (MIP), a program to plug gaps in mobile service in areas where operators haven't seen a business reason for installing infrastructure. The government had found funding for the project in October 2011.

The government Monday said it now has tapped Arqiva to deliver the program, which will cover at least 60,000 outlying sites and sections of road. Arqiva will be responsible for a full-scale mobile network rollout that encompasses network planning and site acquisition, as well as the deployment of site infrastructure and installation of all relevant signal-boosting equipment.

By improving mobile phone coverage, MIP will help "connect rural communities, create local jobs and contribute to economic growth," the government said in a statement. All four British mobile network operators will provide their services from the MIP infrastructure, "maximizing the benefits to all consumers," it said.

[ Can you hack cell coverage? Read Drop Your Cell Plan And Still Use Your Phone. ]

The original MIP schedule called for a contract to be signed in the spring of 2012 with a completion date of 2015. The completion date has been revised to 2017, with a 20-year maintenance agreement, Arqiva told InformationWeek.

Arqiva's appointment represents "great news for rural communities throughout the U.K." which stand to "benefit enormously" from the attempt to improve mobile phone coverage, said Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, who is responsible for expanding British communications infrastructure, including rural broadband, in a statement. "Good mobile connectivity is becomingly increasingly important and it is crucial that businesses and individuals are not left struggling with poor and intermittent coverage."

Nicolas Ott, Arqiva's managing director of government, mobile and enterprise, said in a statement that "MIP perfectly fits within our strategy of creating a range of platforms -- cellular, Wi-Fi and small cells -- that provide mobile connectivity to all and support a thriving digital economy in the U.K."

MIP is part of a constellation of on-going projects sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to ramp up British connectivity. Others include the £530 million ($813 million) rural broadband project and a £150 million ($230 million) "super-connected" cities program.

Arquiva provides a significant chunk of the infrastructure behind British TV, radio, satellite and wireless communications in the U.K., with customers including the BBC, ITV, satellite giant BSkyB and the U.K.'s four mobile network operators, plus some of its emergency services.

Arquiva and the government are expected to jointly announce this summer which parts of the country will be receiving the improved mobile coverage.

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