Smartphones Worse Than 2G Handsets For Rural Calls

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Smartphones are slightly worse than 2G handsets for making voice calls in rural areas, research has found

Mobile phone users in rural areas who struggle with poor signal strength, should consider using an old 2G handset to make voice calls rather a smartphone, following the results of an Ofcom study.

Earlier this week the UK communications regulator published research on so called ‘mobile not-spots‘, which found that in some rural areas, smartphones tend to struggle more than their older or more basic brethren, in making voice calls.

2G/3G handovers

“We published the research earlier this week about mobile not-spots,” explained an Ofcom spokesman, speaking to eWEEK Europe UK. “We conducted a mobile coverage study in Devon and cross-checked that with the industry maps that mobile operators use.”

“The study outcome revealed that the maps are broadly accurate, but as part of that we also offered a projection of the performance of different types of phones,” said the Ofcom spokesman. “It found that in this case, the basic phone performance was slightly better than the smartphone performance.”

“It should be noted that this was a small difference, as the study found that older 2G handsets had a 97 percent rating for call robustness, compared to a 95 percent rating for smartphones,” said Ofcom.

This, Ofcom believes is because 2G older models of phones have less complex antennas and don’t have to worry about seamlessly switching between 2G and 3G networks.

And it seems that quality of sound was not found to differ between 2G and 3G devices.

Devon example

But Ofcom was quick to warn that this is not a hard and fast rule for the whole of the United Kingdom.

“Users should be aware that these results are from a study in Devon, and it may be totally different experience for users in say London,” said the Ofcom spokesman.

“In Devon there is patchy 3G coverage, and it could be that smartphones are working overtime to jump between 2G and 3G networks, whereas in London smartphones won’t be behaving in the same manner,” he told eWEEK Europe UK.

What the Ofcom research did prove was the reliability of the mobile operators’ coverage checkers (available online and in-stores) that consumers use in order to test the signal where they live and work.

Practical Advice

Ofcom also published a practical guide to how rural users can maximise their mobile signal. Its advice includes:

  • Utilising online checkers to get an indication of your likely 2G and 3G coverage in your postcode. Users should also consider mobile coverage whilst on the move (say when commuting).
  • Users should check the terms and conditions of their contract to make sure they can return a particular phone if it is not getting a good signal.
  • Users should consider other mobile operators services and not sign a long-term contract. Try out SIM-only monthly contracts or ‘Pay as you go’ to test the coverage from different operators.
  • Finally, users should try and improve their indoor mobile signal. This is because 3G signals often have difficulty penerating buildings.

“Coverage indoors can depend on the features of the building you are in and tends to be worse than coverage outdoors because buildings act as a shield to mobile signals,” said Ofcom. “So remember that results from coverage checkers are likely to be more accurate for predictions of mobile signals outdoors than indoors.”

Femtocell Option

It advises users to consider using three pieces of technology to help improve poor indoor signals. This includes a femtocell such as Vodafone’s SureSignal device. Orange meanwhile offers a “signal boost” product to customers that uses Universal Mobile Access (UMA) technology which is built into some handsets and works via a Wi-Fi connection.

“You can also route mobile data and calls across a home Wi-Fi network if your operator offers the service and your device is Wi-Fi enabled,” said Ofcom. “Speak to your provider to find out more.”

Last month an advisory panel urged Ofcom to ensure that the forthcoming 4G spectrum auction extends mobile phone coverage in rural areas.

Meanwhile in May, MPs debated this issue and said that 4G technologies could play a crucial role in extending broadband and mobile provision to rural areas.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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