Press Release | 08 Nov 2023

Vodafone pledges to close town vs country digital divide as report finds poorest rural areas are missing out

Vodafone today reaffirms its commitment to closing the digital divide, as new study reveals close to a million (838,000) people living in deprived rural communities would benefit from access to 5G standalone.

  • Study reveals widening gap between urban and rural areas, with nearly half of rural deprived areas classed as 5G not spots, compared to just 2.7% of urban areas
  • Scotland, Wales, East Anglia, Cumbria and the South-West are the worst performing areas of Britain identified with a lack of connectivity and high levels of deprivation
  • With improved connectivity, rural communities would benefit from advances in healthcare, education and agriculture that would dramatically improve people’s lives
  • Vodafone UK pledges to close the digital divide between rural and urban areas by delivering on the Government’s 2030 5G coverage ambitions, set out in the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, by providing 95% of the UK population with 5G Standalone coverage by 2030 and extending that to 99% by 2034, as part of its proposed merger with Three UK

A new study of Britain’s most deprived communities has revealed a stark digital divide between rural and urban areas. The report, ‘Connecting the Countryside’, which has been commissioned by Vodafone UK with analysis carried out by WPI Economics, found nearly half (46%) of rural deprived areas are classed as 5G not spots, whereas the same can only be said for 2.7% of urban, deprived communities.

The study identified five areas of Britain as performing particularly poorly when it comes to a lack of connectivity and high levels of deprivation – Scotland, Wales, East Anglia, Cumbria and the South-West. Over half (53.8%) of the rural constituencies in Wales are total 5G not spots.

This means almost a million (838,000) people living in deprived rural areas are losing out on the benefits that 5G could provide – from better access to healthcare to more educational opportunities. Improved connectivity, through investment in digital infrastructure, will help these communities not only today, but also tomorrow as those living in not spots simply won’t learn the digital skills they need for the future.

Benefits of 5G to these deprived rural communities include:

  • Transformative health benefits with fast 5G infrastructure offering the ability to pre-empt and react to health emergencies, crucial in hard-to-reach areas.
  • Better access to healthcare, with rural communities often inaccessible medicines can take up to 36 hours to be delivered; with 5G and Vodafone’s Skyport drone programme they can be delivered in just 15 minutes.
  • In rural areas, virtual classrooms could open distance learning opportunities and specialist qualifications – vastly increasing the opportunities available to people.
  • In agricultural areas, 5G enabled sensors can provide data that makes higher yields and better crop quality (tests have shown efficiency improvements of 15%).

Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer at Vodafone UK, said: “We believe everyone should have access to connectivity and our research shows the alarming rate at which almost a million people living in deprived rural communities are being left behind. It’s clear we need to accelerate the roll-out of the UK’s 5G infrastructure, which is what we commit to do as part of our proposed merger with Three UK. We would close the rural digital divide by delivering 95% 5G Standalone geographic coverage by 2034.”

Merger of Vodafone UK and Three UK to create one of Europe's leading 5G networks

Vodafone Group and CH Hutchison Group Telecom Holdings Ltd., owner of Three UK, have agreed to combine their UK businesses.

Simon Fell, Conservative MP for Barrow and Furness and Rural Connectivity Champion, said: “New research published today lays bare the challenge we face to bring connectivity to our most deprived rural communities to match the rest of the country, and to ensure that millions of people are not left out from the future innovations that 5G can provide. We need to deliver ‘nationwide coverage of standalone 5G to all populated areas by 2030, ensuring that we can bring its full benefits to villages and rural communities well beyond cities and towns’ as set out in the Government’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy. Some of these innovations are already a reality, and simply need connectivity as the final piece of the puzzle.”

“Whether it be in agriculture, with 5G-enabled sensors measuring soil quality and crop health, or in healthcare with virtual wards, 5G can bring tangible improvements to productivity, efficiency and quality of life.”

Vodafone has been tackling the digital divide, rolling out 4G via one of the largest investment programmes in the industry’s history. As well as geographic access to infrastructure, there are many reasons why people become digitally excluded which is why Vodafone has also committed to helping 4 million people and businesses cross the digital divide by 2025 as part of its everyone.connected programme, which supplies connectivity, devices and skills to those in need.

Read the full ‘Connecting the Countryside’ report here.

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Notes to editors


Vodafone’s study examines the correlation between rural connectivity ‘not spots’ or areas where connectivity is limited and rural deprivation levels. It has, as a result, created a new index that ranks every parliamentary constituency in Great Britain based on its 4G and 5G coverage against its standard deprivation levels.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from WPI Economics.

“Deprived constituencies” refers to constituencies which are both rural and in the 40% most deprived constituencies in the country.

Reference to rural constituencies refers to constituencies which are categorised as either ‘Predominantly Rural’ or ‘Urban with Significant Rural’.

The five regions that perform particularly poorly in the index are: Scotland, Wales, East Anglia (Norfolk & Suffolk), Cumbria and the South-West (Devon, Cornwall & Somerset).

About WPI Strategy

WPI Strategy is one of the UK’s leading political communications consultancies, with a track record of delivering high impact public affairs campaigns. We offer senior strategic counsel and work extensively with our sister company, WPI Economics, to ensure that campaigns are underpinned by evidence-based content.

About Vodafone UK

Vodafone UK is a technology communications company that connects people, businesses and devices to help our customers benefit from digital innovation. Our services span mobile, fixed-line connections, home and office broadband, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

We have a strong track record as a tech pioneer, making the UK’s first mobile phone call, sending the first text message, and making the UK’s first live holographic call using 5G in 2018. We were the first to start carrying live 5G traffic from a site in Salford, Greater Manchester and now have 5G in locations across Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain as well as the UK. Meanwhile, our 4G network coverage currently reaches over 99% of the UK population.

Today, Vodafone serves more than 18 million mobile and fixed-line customers in the UK. Vodafone is the largest provider of full fibre in the UK – our superfast broadband services are now available to nearly 12 million homes across the UK.

Sustainability is also at the heart of what we do: as of 1 July 2021, 100% of the grid electricity we use in the UK is certified to be from renewable sources.

For more information about Vodafone UK, please visit:

Vodafone UK Media Relations

Telephone: +44 (0) 1635 693 693


Twitter: @VodafoneUKNews


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