Mobile networks told to improve coverage – but not data
The UK’s four major mobile networks have agreed to improve mobile reception in rural areas – but have made no guarantees about 3G/4G data coverage.
The government had threatened to impose nationwide roaming on the networks – allowing customers to use another network if their own didn’t provide coverage in that particular area – in a bid to solve the problem of poor coverage in much of Britain’s countryside.
The move met with resistance from the mobile networks, who’ve now agreed to invest more in improving coverage so that each of the networks will provide 90% of the country’s landmass with basic text and voice coverage by 2017. However, only 85% of the country will have coverage from all four networks, and there are no guarantees about 3G/4G, with the Department of Culture Media and Sport merely promising that “many areas will receive better data coverage”.
The government says the deal is legally binding and will be overseen by Ofcom, which doesn’t have a great track record in enforcing previous data commitments. Vodafone missed its deadline to reach 90% of the population with its 3G network in 2013, but escaped without punishment. O2 had a similar let off when it failed to hit its 80% target in 2008.
Indeed, Vodafone describes the new agreement as a “voluntary industry commitment”, while O2 calls it a “partnership between government and the mobile operators”, which rather contradicts the culture secretary’s suggestion that the new coverage conditions are being forced upon the networks.
A spokesperson for Ofcom told PC Pro that the networks will only have an obligation to provide 2G data under the new agreement. “With Ofcom coverage obligations already on 4G, today’s announcement will improve voice and data services for consumers in the UK,” the spokesman said.
The culture secretary, meanwhile, insists the coverage conditions are mandatory. “Government and businesses have been clear about the importance of mobile connectivity, and improved coverage, so this legally binding agreement will give the UK the world-class mobile phone coverage it needs and deserves,” said culture secretary Sajid Javid. However, Ofcom couldn’t confirm whether the networks will face any financial punishment if they miss the targets at the time of publication.
The government says it will allow masts to be erected on many government buildings as part of the deal, “potentially opening up hundreds of sites to boost mobile coverage, including areas where is has been previously difficult to roll out network coverage”.