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UK 4G network 'plagued by not spots', says infrastructure watchdog

Wednesday, December 14th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The UK is lagging behind many other countries when it comes to 4G coverage and is littered with “digital deserts and partial not-spots”, according to a new report.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) ranked Britain’s 4G network as 54th in the world and said the future rollout of 5G services must be handled better.

It said mobile connectivity had “become a necessity” and basic services were needed “wherever we live, work and travel”.

The NIC said Ofcom and the government should develop a “meaningful” way of showing what coverage people actually receive and develop a mobile Universal Service Obligation similar to the USO that will soon give Britons the legal right to 10Mbps broadband.

To ensure the UK is 5G ready, the necessary infrastructure should be in place on Britain’s railways and motorways by 2025, the report said.

And in towns and cities, authorities should work with network providers to deploy the thousands of small wireless cells that will be needed.

The cells will have less range than current mobile phone masts but will be positioned to ensure better coverage.

NIC chairman Lord Adonis said: “Britain is 54th in the world for 4G coverage, and the typical user can only access 4G barely half the time.

'Worse than Romania'

“Our 4G network is worse than Romania and Albania, Panama and Peru. Our roads and railways can feel like digital deserts and even our city centres are plagued by not spots where connectivity is impossible.

“That isn’t just frustrating, it is increasingly holding British business back as more and more of our economy requires a connected workforce.

“5G offers us a chance to start again and get ahead. If government acts now we can ensure our major transport networks and urban centres are 5G ready in time to give British industry every chance to lead the world in exploiting its applications.”

A spokesperson for Ofcom said: “We agree that mobile coverage must improve, so we’re pleased the NIC shares our ambition for universal coverage.

“Our rules mean that virtually all UK premises must receive a 4G signal by the end of next year, and we’re also making more airwaves available to boost mobile broadband.

“Last month, we challenged mobile operators to explore how to reach all remote areas and transport lines.”

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