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Not-spot problem is Europe-wide

Monday, November 10th 2014 by Hannah Langston

Europe still hasn’t solved the “problem” of poor mobile coverage in certain areas, a telecoms expert has said.

Speaking as the UK government launches a consultation on how to eradicate partial ‘not-spots’ – areas where there is little or no mobile signal, IDC’s EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) mobility research manager Rosalind Craven said: “Not-spots are a common problem across [Europe] and are worse in some areas than others.

“Europe hasn’t solved the problem.”

She said that Spain is one of the countries with the most signal black spots: “The regulatory regime may have an impact – there are different targets and approaches for punishing operators. They impose penalties more regularly which leads to a poorer outcome.

“But Spain has challenging geography and mountainous areas are always difficult. That is the greater problem.”

As part of 3G licensing agreements, UK mobile operators have to achieve a minimum of 90% coverage. Although targets for other European countries vary, the average minimum level is 90%.

“Some countries have higher targets and are put through the penalties if they don’t meet them, but that’s quite rare,” she added.

The UK government has proposed national roaming – where a user can roam to another network if their own network isn’t available, as one of four potential methods of boosting mobile coverage.

However, Ms Craven said this has not been used widely used elsewhere in Europe.

“There’s no example of multi-directional roaming, as the UK government is proposing, in Europe.

“There are cases of roaming being used in some countries but it is not compulsory.

“I’m 95% certain [mandatory roaming] doesn’t exist anywhere,” she added.

In addition to national roaming, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has suggested infrastructure sharing and handsets that can access all networks (known as dual-SIM) as potential coverage boosters. Another option is that the operators decide themselves how best to improve signal.

Ms Craven believes a “blended initiative” is needed: “I hope the roaming plan isn’t implemented. It’s too problematic.

“The dual-SIM option has few legal and technical problems. But dual-SIM phones are not designed for advanced markets such as Western Europe.

“The 800MHZ spectrum has only recently been used by the networks. I think the operators will use it to improve rural coverage and introduce new conditions such as use x% of this spectrum to improve the signal.

“But none of the solutions are good enough to use on their own,” she added.

One fifth of the UK is currently blighted by poor mobile phone coverage.

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