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Study Claims 29% of UK Mobile Users Suffer Poor or No Indoor Signal

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 1,950

A new survey conducted by uSwitch.com, which fielded responses from a “nationally representative” sample of 2,002 UK adults, has claimed that 29% of Mobile Phone (2G, 3G and 4G) users suffer from poor or no indoor reception at home. This rises to 50% for those living in rural areas.

The survey also states that 57% of mobile users claim to have experienced patchy call quality, while 43% have had calls cutting out and 37% suffered no reception at all when trying to make or take calls at home. Sadly those living in rural areas were more likely to report poor or no mobile reception in their own homes, although there has been an improvement since last year.

Where do you live? % reporting poor / partial / no indoor reception (2017) % reporting poor / partial / no indoor reception (2016)
City centre / inner city 32% 41%
Urban area, but not inner city 26% 30%
Suburban area 21% 28%
Village or small town 33% 35%
Rural area 50% 52%

On a regional basis, those in Bristol reported receiving the worst indoor mobile reception (39%), followed by people living in Cardiff (35%), Norwich (35%), Plymouth (33%), Sheffield (33%) and London (30%); sadly the sample size appears to have been too small to return data for the rest of the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile it’s interesting to note that, on a network operator basis, O2 customers were found to be the most likely to report their coverage as “excellent” (71%). On the other hand the difference between operators’ is surprisingly small.

Network % reporting ‘excellent’ indoor mobile reception % reporting poor / partial / no indoor mobile reception
EE 68% 32%
O2 71% 30%
Three UK 68% 32%
Vodafone 69% 31%

Of those that suffer poor reception at home, 36% said they have to visit specific parts of their house to make calls, while 32% rely on landlines and 30% connect to home WiFi for calling apps like FaceTime, Whatsapp or Skype etc.

In fairness, delivering reliable indoor reception is incredibly difficult, not least because every property is different and not all spectrum bands are able to effectively penetrate through walls (higher frequencies like 2.6GHz+ tend to struggle, while lower frequencies like 800MHz find it a lot easier). Homes with thick walls or walls that contain a lot metal (e.g. chicken wire / mesh) can be particularly challenging.

Elsewhere over a quarter (27%) said they have to go outside to make calls. Outside of their homes, some 73% of UK mobile users reported that they experience patchy or poor mobile service on a day-to-day basis, while 30% claim to suffer poor voice call reception on trains and 34% had difficulties with their phone signal in public spaces.

The Government has previously said that they want 98% of the UK’s population to be able to connect (outdoors) to a 4G network by the end of this year, although geographic reach will continue to stay well below this (here). However we do note that EE intends to extend the geographic reach of their 4G network to 95% by the end of December 2020.

Some mobile operators also sell indoor signal boosters, which can harness your fixed line broadband connection in order to improve mobile reception, and Ofcom has just relaxed their rules on similar devices (here). Sadly anybody hoping for future 5G Mobile services to deliver a magic fix may be disappointed. Aside from the bonus of being able to harness the 700MHz band to boost coverage, most of the fastest 5G connectivity will ultimately be delivered via even higher frequencies (upwards of 3.4GHz) and we’ve already highlighted the problem with those.

One way to improve the situation would be to attach tougher coverage obligations to certain bands at auction, although there is unlikely to ever be an agreement that can truly guarantee indoor coverage (mobile signals are simply too variable and subject to various unpredictable factors within the environment); it’s those pesky laws of physics again.

We should also point out that related problems can also be caused by the Phone itself or a bad configuration / SIM.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
8 Responses
  1. Davek says:

    This all a waste of space. More surveys telling us what the the public already know but the government ignore.
    Living in a rural area with no signal inside or out and still sub 1 Mbps broadband speeds with no prospect of any improvement.

  2. 3G Infinity (now 4G going on 5G) says:

    Its interesting that some reports in the US claim that over 30% of mobile users have no landline and there must either have indoor coverage or be using wifi calling/Whatsapp/Facetime.

    With the high penetration of either cable or satellite for TV then this figure could well be true, so that would suggest the UK could achieve better indoor penetration.

    It would be interesting to see figures for say Sweden or Finland where building construction is even less friendly (triple or quad glazing, concrete+insulation, etc) and what % claim not to get coverage.

  3. C. McCormick says:

    I’m not sure how to comment on these sorts of reports anymore…

    Comparing UK to Northern America is pointless…

    They pay more, in return they get investment in infrastructure…

    The UK’s outlook on selling mobile services is always how cheap can it be sold, not how much does it need to be.

  4. Colin says:

    All coverage maps from all the networks for my postcode display Excellent/V Good inside coverage for 4G. Reality is I need to stand by the patio doors to eek even partial signal of 3G/4G.

    I live in normal semi detached 1970’s home.

  5. NGA for all says:

    By the end of 2017 02 have a 4G indoor coverage obligation for 98% of premises or 95% of premises by devolved nation. It will interesting to see Ofcom’s enforcement plan.

    1. gerarda says:

      Ofcom, as their stats already show with greater coverage now than even the operators claim, will simply make the definition of coverage ensure their targets appear to have been met regardless of actual real world usability.

  6. Withnail says:

    Most indoor coverage problems would be instantly solved if native Wi-fi calling was ubiquitous and available on all networks. Sadly the handset manufacturers and mobile networks have chosen to make it a ‘premium’ service which users have to pay for the privilege of using. This despite the fact that when used at home it is reliant on ones own broadband/bandwidth and it frees up capacity on your mobile providers cellular network that you would otherwise be using. And even then it’s only available on one or two mobile networks. When looking at it objectively there is case for saying the mobile networks should be paying us to use Wi-fi calling not the other around. It should at the very least be offered free of charge on a reciprocal quid pro quo basis.

  7. Peter says:

    Hopefully this survey will put an end once and for all to all these city-centric posts we regularly see on here telling us we should ditch the land line and just use our mobile “like what most normal people do”
    …some hope!

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