Ofcom has announced new incentives for mobile operators to provide better coverage in the country’s rural areas.

In its latest Connected Nations report, the regulator said that all four mobile operators currently only provide 41% of offices and homes in rural areas with “good” coverage of a minimum 2Mbps but provide that level of service to 83% of urban areas.

Ofcom plans to sell two batches of coverage obligations in its next series of 5G spectrum auctions at a £400m discount to boost rural cellular coverage.

The regulator said it expects to auction two spectrum bands about a year from now in conjunction with the coverage obligations. One of the auctions will be for the 700Mhz band, which is ideally suited to offer “good” mobile coverage both indoors and open outdoor areas. The other auction will be for the 3.6Ghz to 3.8Ghz band, which the mobile operators can use to offer 5G service.

The winners of the coverage obligations will be required to increase their coverage to 90% of the UK, which will mean improving mobile coverage for a minimum of 140,000 offices and homes in rural areas.

As part of the auction, Ofcom will require successful bidders to build 500 new masts in areas that currently have poor coverage.

Philip Marnick, Ofcom’s spectrum group director, indicated that the regulator was particularly concerned about the quality of mobile service in rural areas.

“As we release new airwaves for mobile, we’re planning rules that would extend good mobile coverage to where it’s needed. That will help ensure that rural communities have the kind of mobile coverage that people expect in towns and cities, reducing the digital divide,” he said.