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(Pocket-lint) - Three of the UK's mobile networks have agreed to join forces to boost rural coverage; O2, Vodafone and Three.

The buzz may be all about 5G, but 4G is set to be the backbone of mobile coverage for rural areas for some time to come and will be an upgrade from many areas only being able to get 3G or worse. 

3G will be turned off in due course and the spectrum reallocated. 

Existing phone masts will be upgraded alongside new ones with the aim of increasing 4G coverage to at least 90 percent of the UK by 2026, eventually reaching 95 percent of the population. One of the key benefits is that rural roads will also be better served by coverage. The networks also say that around 1.2 million businesses and homes will get better indoor coverage. 

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The Shared Rural Network is a £1bn programme to improve rural mobile coverage and was agreed by the mobile network operators, Government and Ofcom in March 2020 to avoid them being further mandated on the provision of services to rural areas. 

All three networks will partner on the 222 new masts that will form the first part of the network. O2 and Vodafone already share around 14,000 mast sites as part of another sharing deal. 

There will also be some Government funding - around £500 million - to eliminate areas where there is no 4G coverage from any operator. 

UPDATE: EE has been in touch to clarify why it isn't included in the alliance and sent us the following statement, essentially claiming that it has already met the Shared Rural Network target: "Our historic investment into rural coverage means we already deliver the widest 4G network across the UK, helping to meet our Shared Rural Network target. We’ve built more than 600 new rural sites over the past few years and we’ve offered to make these available to other operators to support them to improve their own rural coverage."

Writing by Dan Grabham.