Infrastructure Commission Calls For Action On ‘Deplorable’ Mobile Coverage

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Lord Adonis said ‘urgent and radical action’ was needed from Ofcom to eliminate ‘digital deserts’ and poor home broadband

At a time when mobile access has become a necessary service it is still difficult to place a phone call over cellular networks in some areas, said the NIC’s chair, Lord Adonis, in an open letter to Ofcom.

Adonis’ comments follow Ofcom’s disclosure in a Friday report that full 4G coverage, where a signal is available from all four mobile networks, is available in only 43 percent of the UK and that 30 percent of the country lacks full coverage for calls and text messages.

Ofcom also said more than one million homes receive poor broadband speeds.

mobile

Regulator action

Adonis launched a public consultation in October on the quality of UK infrastructure with a particular focus on mobile sertives as needing attention.

The former Oxford academic and Labour transport secretary, who was made a life peer in 2005, said he was concerned that four out of five rural homes had no 4G coverage indoors.

Last year he produced a report finding UK 4G mobile coverage was worse than in Albania, Panama, Peru and Romania.

Adonis said Ofcom should “put all possible options on the table”, including legal and regulatory changes, to improve the situation.

“In an age when access to a mobile signal is regarded as a must-have, it is deplorable that even in areas previously considered to have strong coverage, operators are still delivering such poor services that customers can struggle to make a quick phone call,” he said.

“It demonstrates the need for urgent and radical action to tackle this issue immediately, ahead of new mobile spectrum being auctioned and 5G technology being rolled out.”

‘Digital deserts’

Mobile operators should share masts where appropriate to boost signal strength and coverage, he said.

The NIC called for an end to “digital deserts” in well-trafficked places such as rail routes, roads and city centres.

Ofcom said it agreed change was needed.

“We’re playing our part by enforcing rules for better coverage, and preparing to set new rules in operators’ licences,” said the regulator’s chief technology officer, Steve Unger. “We’re also boosting the capacity of mobile networks by releasing new airwaves, and helping to improve coverage on trains.”

Digital minister Matt Hancock said there was a “clear need” for rapid improvements.

“We’ve recently removed outdated restrictions, giving mobile operators more freedom to improve their networks including hard-to-reach rural areas,” Hancock said. “But industry needs to play its part too through continued investment and improvement in their networks, making sure that customers are not paying for services they don’t receive.”

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