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Three: Mobile firms should work with rail bosses to improve signal on trains

Wednesday, June 17th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Rail companies and mobile operators should work together to improve signal on trains, Three's director of network strategy has said.

Phil Sheppard, director of network strategy and architecture at Three, called for collaboration between mobile companies and rail operators, as well as hotels, to help ensure customers can get mobile coverage wherever they are.

Speaking at the Connected Britain conference in London, Mr Sheppard said reliability is the most important factor for consumers when it comes to their mobile network.

He said when looking at Net Promoter Scores – used to measure how likely people are to recommend their mobile operator to others – the network itself is the most important factor for consumers, followed by customer support, billing, value, and the device.

"The network quality itself is the dominant factor in people promoting a mobile operator,” he told the conference.

"What do customers say? They generally say that they want reliability and then they want coverage, and they want speed, in terms of headline speed.

"If you ask customers what they want, reliability is the key thing."

People want to talk and text anywhere, for calls not to drop, messages to deliver promptly, to enjoy quick browsing, to always be able to use data, to get quick downloads, and not to suffer buffering or stalling with videos or audio, Mr Sheppard said.

Describing the efforts being made by Three to improve coverage, in buildings as well as outside, he said the operator has gone from having 7,500 mobile mast sites in 2007 to 14,300 now, thanks to Mobile Broadband Network Limited, a joint site-sharing venture with EE.

The goal for Three's coverage, which he said is currently around 98%, is 99.7% but he admitted it will be physically impossible to get to every single location.

'Coverage everywhere'

He called for more collaboration to tackle problems in places like hotels, that have a series of often thick walls limiting mobile coverage, and trains, which are often well insulated from radio signals.

Local commuter trains do not tend to insulate passengers from mobile signal, he said, but high-speed trains are often so well insulated from radio signals that people inside have little to no mobile signal.

“I think if you’re going to build a train that’s almost totally insulated like that, it would be reasonable to consider you put a repeater on the train so it can take a signal from outside and repeat it indoors,” he told Cable.co.uk.

The repeaters could be used by all operators, he said, and would not need to be specific to each company.

“What they found I think is that some research on customer satisfaction is that if you have some mobile signal or wi-fi, or both, on your train, then you’re more likely to want to travel on that route and you’re more likely to be happy and satisfied with that journey.

“So I think it’s in the interests of both ourselves as operators and the train operating companies to support something like that.”

The same applies to hotels and large venues, where it is often difficult to get an indoor signal, he said.

“Our strategy is coverage everywhere – it’s sort of impossible to absolutely get everywhere, but we want people to feel as though it’s everywhere.

“Working with partners I think is the way to do it.”

Mr Sheppard outlined a series of solutions Three is working on to improve coverage, including its Three InTouch app, which allows customers to call and text over wi-fi.

It is also rolling out low frequency spectrum to tackle blackspots, and introducing Voice over LTE (or VoLTE) technology, which will allow people to make calls over 4G.

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