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Not-spots more than just a rural problem

Friday, November 7th 2014 by Hannah Langston

Mobile users that live within an hour’s drive of London are struggling to get signals, a telecoms expert has said.

Following the launch of a government consultation on how to boost rural mobile coverage, IDC’s EMEA mobility research manager Rosalind Craven told Cable.co.uk: “There’s not only a perception that not-spots are in rural areas but specifically remote, rural areas.

“There are plenty of villages less than one hour from London with virtually no mobile signal. They can only get some next to the main road or the duck pond.

“There’s lots of places like this across the UK.”

What’s more, not-spots also exist in cosmopolitan areas such as London: “I’m in a not-spot at the moment where I work in Chiswick – there’s terrible signal,” Ms Craven told us.

She said that some of these areas are not highlighted as ‘not-spots’ on the coverage maps operators display on their websites.

“They’re marked as covered on coverage maps but does it count as coverage?”

Commenting on Ms Craven’s claims, a spokesperson for the Mobile Operators Association (MOA), which represents EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three said: “In urban areas buildings can block or break up signals, no guide to coverage of an area can hope to include every detail.

“Mobile phones are radio-based systems and the broadcast footprint of a mast can also be blocked by tree cover or hills.

“Even weather conditions can affect the signal quality.

“Types of window glass and thick walls or some building materials also affect mobile phone signals.

“Operators make it clear that their coverage maps are guides.”

Earlier this week the government revealed plans to eliminate the poor coverage that affects a fifth of the UK.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is consulting industry on four options: national roaming, infrastructure sharing, allowing virtual networks such as Virgin and Tesco to offer handsets that can access the four main networks and leaving it open for the operators to decide on a method for boosting coverage.

Ms Craven said that she hopes the national roaming plan, where consumers hop from one network to another depending on which has a presence in the particular location, isn’t implemented.

“It’s problematic from a number of points of views.

“It seems straight-forward – it’s something reasonable that can be done quickly to alleviate the problem. But it’s not as simple as that.

“There are legal and regulatory problems, for example, the conditions around the sold licences and paid spectrum would have to be altered.

“The technology is also more complicated than expected.”

According to the MOA: “operators have consistently argued that national roaming is the wrong solution”.

However, culture secretary Sajid Javid has previously backed the method. He told the Guardian: “National roaming… would mean that if you can’t get a good signal from your main network, you’ll be able to use one of the other networks in much the same way as when you go abroad to France or Spain on holiday.”

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

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