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North Norfolk residents 'let down' by poor mobile coverage - campaigners

Monday, March 16th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

North Norfolk is being left behind when it comes to mobile phone signal and should be prioritised for the rollout of new technology, according to campaigners.

While Norfolk is part of the government’s rollout of superfast broadband, some people in the area are concerned that it is falling behind the rest of the country when it comes to mobile technology.

A lack of 3G and 4G coverage leaves many people unable to access the mobile data their packages include, while patchy signal in some places means people cannot even send text messages or make and receive calls, concerned residents have told Cable.co.uk.

And the effect of the lack of signal in the northern part of the popular county has a wide-reaching impact, they said, affecting tourists who come to visit; to elderly residents unable to reach their carers; and hampering efforts to get businesses to locate in the area.

Callum Ringer, assistant manager at the Burlington Hotel in Sheringham, north Norfolk, said Vodafone is one of the better networks in the area, and he still endures unreliable service, as well as watching tourists visiting the area struggling even to make calls.

He said: “I work in a hotel, I’m having guests who come and stay and are having no end of problems.

“We’re a five-storey building and I’m telling people to literally just keep walking until they get a signal."

Mr Ringer added that a recent review for the hotel mentioned the lack of mobile signal, and that he was sure there are other people who have been annoyed by it.

He continued: “It seems like operators don’t really prioritise our area, because it’s a small town of 8,000 people, but they don’t see that come summer, there’s 20,000 people here, there’s a huge tourist influx.

“Operators aren’t just letting down residents from here, they’re letting down customers from elsewhere in the country.

“It’s an area where quite a lot of elderly people come away and sometimes they’re not mobile enough to go moving around looking for signal.

“And without generalising and wishing to sound ageist, while I’ve got a smartphone and can log on to wi-fi etc, they just expect to be able to use their phone to make a call and send a text and they can’t.”

'Step back in time'

Mr Ringer said Sheringham and nearby Cromer have no 3G signal as far as he knew. While going to other places with 3G and 4G makes him think “wow”, he said returning felt like taking a “step back in time”.

“We are promised better mobile phone signal, better broadband, and things like this, which aren’t really materialising as fast as they should be,” he added.

“Businesses are suffering, members of the public are suffering.

“There’s a general frustration that some places are getting prioritised for upgrades and we are missing out.”

Jono Read, the Labour candidate for Holt ward in the forthcoming North Norfolk District Council elections in May, is one of several local politicians campaigning for better mobile phone coverage by writing to operators about 3G and 4G coverage in the area.

He said while some operators are focusing on increasing coverage for calls and texts, they should not lose sight of making sure people in rural areas have the infrastructure in place to allow them to access advances like mobile data.

“In Holt we’re lucky enough to have superfast broadband, but mobile phone technology is lagging behind.

“What this campaign is about is prioritising areas where we think signal is lagging behind broadband.

“I think the issue is that people are signing up to packages and not realising that they can’t get some of the features that are part of their contract.

“Some people have got iPhones and smartphones and they aren’t capable of accessing many of their features. They can text message and make calls but they can’t access any data.”

'Very frustrating'

Mr Read echoed Mr Ringer’s concerns about the far-reaching effects of poor mobile signal, from tourism to people being unable to get in touch with family and carers in emergencies.

“It’s very frustrating for a variety of different demographics, whether you’re a young person who wants to use Whatsapp, wants to use Spotify, or parents who want to get in touch with their child at school.

“We have people who don’t have a fixed line, they don’t have a BT landline, and they rely on their mobile phone.

“Equally we have a very elderly population and we have a lot of carers who rely on their mobile phone, they need to have phone signal because if someone has a fall, or something like that, they need to know they have got guaranteed signal so people can get hold of them.”

Tourism can be affected, he said, as well as north Norfolk’s ability to attract businesses to the area.

“There’s a big push for new businesses to come to north Norfolk, trying to create more jobs and improve the economy, and while we have got a push for superfast broadband, mobile phone signal is lagging behind.

“I don’t think businesses would come to north Norfolk if they need a mobile phone and can’t get a signal.”

“If we are to attract new businesses to our towns we need to ensure the technology is there. Fast broadband, a strong mobile phone signal, and fast mobile internet speeds is essential to high-tech job creation.”

Mr Read, who is campaigning alongside other local Labour politicians, said a commitment is needed from operators to roll out 3G and 4G in north Norfolk.

“Contracts are becoming more expensive with the addition of mobile data and I don’t think there’s particularly a decent package that takes into account that a lot of these rural areas can't acess these more advanced services.

“We want to make this case to the operators and say, ‘you’re going to roll out this technology, we want to make a case for north Norfolk to be part of that'.

“We really want to make that case that there’s so many different sectors that rely on decent phone signal and at the moment they aren’t getting it in north Norfolk.”

The group has launched a petition for better mobile coverage in north Norfolk, saying that the area should not be left behind.

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