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Ofcom boss promises nationwide indoor 4G mobile coverage

Monday, March 21st 2016 by Ellen Branagh

Ofcom will make sure that 98% of homes and offices get 4G mobile signal indoors by the end of next year, the regulator’s boss has pledged.

Chief executive Sharon White made the pledge at the Federation of Small Businesses' (FSB) national conference as she reassured businesses that getting, and keeping, them connected is a priority for Ofcom.

Addressing the conference in Glasgow last Friday (18 March), Ms White said that as well as broadband, mobile data is increasingly vital to small businesses.

“We’ve set rules to ensure that virtually all homes and offices – 98% – must receive an indoor 4G mobile signal by the end of next year," she said.

“That must include at least 95% of homes and offices in each UK nation – including Scotland.”

Ofcom has launched a consultation to increase the use of ‘mobile repeaters’, which boost mobile signals without interfering with other devices, Ms White said.

She cited an agreement between the government and mobile operators to provide coverage to 90% of the UK, and said rules to improve coverage in rural areas will be part of the sale of mobile spectrum.

Outlining the importance of connectivity for small businesses as well as consumers, Ms White said reliable broadband can mean “the difference between survival and failure”.

“When small businesses do get a decent connection, too often they face problems with their service, and a poor response when they complain.”

Only 68% of small and medium-sized businesses can access superfast broadband, compared to 83% of homes and businesses overall across the UK.

'I want faster progress'

Ms White said small businesses had been “overlooked” in the past in favour of areas of high residential demand.

“There has been some progress. But I want faster progress.”

She outlined measures the regulator is taking to address concerns highlighted by the FSB, including delays fixing broadband faults and slow speeds that make it difficult for people to do business online.

They include the new Universal Service Obligation of 10Mbps, which she said is as important for businesses as it is for residential consumers and should be flexible enough to increase as demand grows.

It should also be easier for businesses to navigate the complex broadband market, she said.

“We simply cannot have a situation where the market is so impenetrable that businesses are put off from finding the best deals.”

Ms White said it is a priority to make sure there is less of a gap between advertised speeds and those people actually get, and referenced work Ofcom is doing with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to make sure advertised broadband prices are clearer.

A new business broadband speeds code of practice signed by the UK’s seven biggest broadband firms, which comes into effect in September, means business customers will be able to walk away from a contract if their speeds fall below an acceptable level, she said.

Ofcom’s newly-launched mobile and broadband checker will make it easier for people to check the actual quality and coverage of the local broadband and mobile services, Ms White said.

And on the subject of quality of service for business customers, which she declared “not good enough”, the Ofcom boss said the watchdog is putting tougher standards on Openreach.

She said opening up BT’s network of telegraph poles and underground tunnels to rivals – one of the measures announced in the regulator’s recent Digital Communications Review – would encourage competition and give businesses more choice.

In response to Ms White’s speech, FSB policy director Mike Cherry said: “Large numbers of small firms are using new digital technology to revolutionise the way they do business, but the market is still not delivering for all and this is acting as a brake on the ambitions of many businesses.

“Ofcom clearly gets the importance of small businesses – but we need to keep up the pressure and help them to deliver.”

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