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Over 50 Cross Party UK MPs Call for Better Rural 4G Mobile Coverage

Sunday, May 13th, 2018 (6:58 pm) - Score 951
wireless broadband rural uk mast

More than 50 MPs have signed a letter by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Rural Services that calls on the government’s digital secretary, Matt Hancock, to ensure that 95% of the UK’s landmass can access a mobile service from all operators (Three UK, Vodafone, EE and O2) by the end of 2022.

At present EE (BT) already claims to have reached a geographic coverage level with their 4G network of 90% and they aim to cover 95% by the end of December 2020. Unfortunately Ofcom recently reported that this figure drops to just 57% when looking at coverage delivered in the same areas by all four mobile operators (here).

The letter asks Hancock to ensure that a legally binding coverage obligation is placed on all four major operators and to rethink Ofcom’s statutory obligations in order clarify that its main purpose must be to work towards the delivery of universal quality mobile coverage.

On top of that the MPs also want a significant change in the rules on transparency in order to prevent mobile operators from hiding behind “commercial confidentiality” and refusing to tell communities about their deployment plans.

Julian Sturdy MP, Chair of the APPG, said:

“Ofcom’s Connected Nations report in December 2017 revealed that while people inside 90% of UK premises can make telephone calls on all four mobile networks, this falls to 57% in rural areas. This is just not good enough and progress in connecting the countryside has been painfully slow.

We are asking the Secretary of State to step in and work with Ofcom to ensure that the mobile operators speed up delivery of 4G to rural areas.”

Mark Bridgeman, CLA Deputy President, said:

“People living and working in the countryside are fed up with rubbish signal and empty promises from the mobile network providers. Ofcom must take a stronger line.

They can do this by requiring legally binding targets that will deliver on the government’s stated ambition of 95% geographic coverage by the end of 2022, and robustly challenge the industry’s constant excuses for not investing in rural areas.”

However it’s worth pointing out that the 95% target is already part of the current government’s manifesto (here) and Ofcom plans to attach a stricter coverage obligation when they come to auction off the highly prized 700MHz band in late 2019 (details). The lower frequency is ideal for covering a wide area, as well as reaching further indoors, and would be a good complement for the existing 800MHz and 900MHz bands in rural areas.

Similarly part of the reason why EE is so far ahead is due to all the new masts and other infrastructure that is being built as part of their £1.2bn Emergency Services Network (ESN), which should connect 300,000 UK emergency services personnel with 4G voices and data services across Britain. The good news is that Vodafone, Three UK and O2 will also be able to make use of masts built via the ESN to help boost their own coverage.

Suffice to say that there’s already a very strong likelihood that the 95% target will be, although that’s still several years away. Another question is over whether or not the improved coverage is something that people will notice, particularly as the official figures don’t always seem to reflect actual end-user experiences on the ground. Mobile coverage is notoriously difficult to pin down.

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Mark Jackson
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.
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13 Responses
  1. New_Londoner

    Yet again the CLA chips in with a quote on coverage despite its members being part of the problem – if they weren’t so greedy when it comes to wayleaves, coverage would be a lot higher already. Why don’t the mobile operators publish league tables to show both the helpful and the obstructive landowners?

    • I suspect GDPR might make such a disclosure more difficult (not all land is used commercially) and probably wouldn’t do much to build trust or engagement with the landowners 🙂 . You might instead create a more hostile atmosphere and still not solve the underlying problem.

    • Joe

      While those are issues in some cases in others they are not. In sparse areas the cost of providing 4g just doesn’t add up commercially.

  2. Meadmodj

    What problem are we trying to resolve?. Is it mobile use out and about or coverage inside premises. Voice or data. Locals or visitors. I think there should be a more co-ordinated approach to both broadband and mobile connectivity with perhaps technology solutions not applicable to urban areas being licenced for use in these remote locations.

    • Realistically I think “solving” indoor connectivity would be very difficult when only looking at the core signal because every property is different (e.g. different walls, windows) and some are even underground.

      Femtocell devices, such as those already sold by some operators, and WiFi Calling can arguably already help such problems where 2-4Mbps+ fixed broadband speeds are available. However the 700MHz band can penetrate better into buildings and so that will help on both fronts.

    • Meadmodj

      Surely it is down to a comparison of costs. If a remote cluster of homesteads were served by a Fibre (government funded) and an external WIFI hotspots (commercia grade) created, then all homes could solve both broadband and mobile (WIFI calling) issues. If a farmer had decent broadband, then he could rig up a WIMAX connectivity to cover their farm to connect to the tractors. There are countries with far more remote areas than us and we can import their solutions. Costs do not have to be based on current UK volumes/pricing.
      The point I am trying to make is that just expanding out expensive mobile for a small population might not be the best solution. I just think we can be more co-ordinated and innovative. Including allowing shared use of broadband between neighbours without having to create an ISP.

  3. CarlT

    Oh get stuffed. Pay more for services where they cost more to provide rather than expecting the taxpayer or other customers to subsidise it.

    • Meadmodj

      Yes we are already subsidising either as taxpayers or customers the provision of both broadband and mobile. If it was all added up we would probably have Giga speeds by now. Forcing the Mobile operators to increase their 4G coverage in very remote locations is costly and the cost falls on us consumers.

      From what I can see the public money for Broadband currently appears to be going into assets owned by private companies. Also the strategy is based on individual broadband accounts to each household. Although there is a sizeable subsidy to the ISP via vouchers it requires a level of take up and there is a cost cut-off. In addition they have to adopt the technology enforced by the ISP. If they go for their own solution they have to buy back haul at commercial rates.

      I would rather tax money goes into a single solution for a remote community with a form of shared service to minimise the costs. So for instance a single FTTH fibre supplied by OR, or other, combined with low cost distribution methods between cottages (WIFI, armoured CAT6, Optic etc) Ideal for a few cottages and a farmstead. If no civils use point to point wifi between poles powered by solar panels. It could also provide visitors with a public WIFI hotspot in each village, hamlet or cluster.

      No room for all the options here, just a plea for innovation and Ofcom getting ISPs to provide a form of shared service in remote areas. Once you get good broadband and WIFI coverage a lot of the issues regarding Mobile are removed.

  4. Nick

    Even with 800MHz on full power (from the likes of EE and 3 for VoLTE) then this is only at 5MHz paired so the speeds are pretty poor anyway. Lets hope with 700MHz the operators have a decent 10-20MHz slice so it can be put to good use. I still do not get why 4G is on such a low power output

  5. Michael V

    We’ve been over this so many times. The Operators have done well with their 800mhz band for VoLTE. Speeds may not be as fast for some on 800 band like the 1800, 2600 bands but in my experience from Three the speeds match 3G so that’s not an issue for me. The big thing that no one has addressed, is that is takes 12 months from planning a site till it goes live. Vodafone put a Mast up in the middle of my village last Christmas… It’s still not live. If this doesn’t change no Operator will have blanket coverage by ’22. Let’s be realistic & stop these pointless petitions calling for better LTE coverage & look at what’s holding the four Operators back.
    Rant Over!

    • Mike

      Yeah but that might actually require some self reflection on behalf of the population and actually doing something about their evil government, signing a petition is much easier.

  6. Mark

    I can comfortably say all the providers bar O2 have rubbish coverage where I live, Orange then EE used to be good till the BT Buyout and they turned off some cell towers.. but they claim I get great full 4g like Vodafone does, and 3, yet O2 claims I can get patchy 4g and it’s the only provider who can give me good 4g coverage! So I don’t beli very a word they say about coverage.

  7. Nougat

    There needs to be standardisation on how coverage is measured. EE have decided on geographic as a measure, which is right, whereas other operators focus on population coverage which doesnt allow a like for like comparison. Ofcom need to step in here and agree on one measure. EE Are not ahead due to the ESN roll out, they had a 12 month head start on the other networks after their merger with T-Mobile. Also, the ESN masts are in areas where previously no network could make a mast pay back with revenues so dont expect the other operators to place their kit on these right away, if ever.

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