Vodafone and Orange plan to boost high-speed mobile internet access across the UK by merging their 3G networks, according to reports.

The two operators yesterday announced a deal that will provide their current and future 3G subscribers with broader access to the technology, and help them meet guidelines set by industry regulator Ofcom.

Orange’s 3G network is believed to be accessible to nearly 90 percent of the UK population, while Vodafone covers 80 percent. The partnership would boost both operators’ reach, and follows Ofcom’s demands that the UK’s top five mobile operators expand their 3G networks to cover at least 80 percent of the population by the end of 2007.

As well as extending the reach of 3G, the deal will allow Vodafone and Orange to cut costs, helping the roll-out of new services, such as mobile television.