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Ofcom Preps Strategic Review of UK 4G and 5G Mobile Networks

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021 (12:46 pm) - Score 2,232
mobile mast uk in circle

Ofcom has today set out the terms of reference for their future UK mobile strategy review, which will examine how the regulator can adjust their approach in order to improve 4G and 5G based mobile (mobile broadband) network connectivity for consumers and businesses over the next 5 to 10 years.

At present 82% of the adult population has a smartphone and average mobile data use grew by 146% between 2016 and 2019, while prices fell by almost 20%. Outdoor 4G data (mobile broadband) services from all MNOs are now available to 97.5% of UK premises and almost all UK premises have coverage from at least one operator. Overall, nine in ten (90%) mobile customers are said to be satisfied with their mobile provider.

NOTE: The UK has four primary Mobile Network Operators – EE (BT), Vodafone, O2 and Three UK.

Ofcom’s work in this area tends to focus on boosting network coverage, encouraging investment and ensuring the fair treatment of consumers by operators. Some examples of this come via the recent 5G spectrum auction (here), which also had a role to play in development of the new £1bn Shared Rural Network project that aims to push geographic 4G coverage to 95% by the end of 2025 (here, here and here).

The regulator has also aided consumers by banning locked mobile phones (here) and fostering the new “Text-to-Switch” (Auto-Switching) system for UK mobile operators (here), which makes it much easier to change operator. But they’re now planning to take a much longer view of the market, which may also need to consider how existing services (e.g. 2G and 3G) can be safely retired and the impact of a rise in smaller local networks.

Much like the regulator’s recent Wholesale Fixed Telecoms Market Review 2021-26 (FTMR) for fixed broadband and business connections, the new mobile sector review will attempt to build a more holistic view of how the mobile market operates and how Ofcom can best contribute to the delivery of good outcomes for both people and businesses.

The new Terms of Reference are thus intended to provide an early starting point for that discussion, which is all about gathering evidence. Ofcom will then aim to publish a discussion paper on the review by the end of 2021. After that their intention is to proceed to Phase 2, which will see them set out their initial conclusions and any next steps in Q1 2022/23.

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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.
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7 Responses
  1. James™ says:

    I find mobile signal a hit or a miss in the Scottish highlands while traveling, In some areas I can get Vodafone 4G and other places I can’t, But then I can get 4G+ with Three with over 100Mbps but no Vodafone.

    I’m guessing it’s to do with mast sharing as when you search for networks it’s either Vodafone and O2 or Three and EE.

  2. Mark says:

    “and almost all UK premises have coverage from at least one operator”. Where do they get that info from? Thick Cotswold stone walls, don’t allow a signal through, they need to stop with computer predicted coverage maps, the signals not that good in some areas. The crowd gathering signal apps give a better indication. Still they get out of it with the disclaimer. Not a guarantee of coverage.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Depends on the technology, but if 4G then they’re probably considering EE’s geographic 4G reach of 85% (EE themselves claim 90%+) and operators can also reach even further if you also consider 2G/3G services. The catch is in how you interpret “almost all”.

    2. New_Londoner says:

      @Mark
      “Thick Cotswold stone walls” are not a problem that a mobile operator is going to solve, it’s something for the occupier to address with an external aerial and internal router or femtocell.

  3. Rob says:

    “90% satisfied customers” … make me laugh with lust, I consider that, out of this total of customers, if they would know exactly what quality of services the test provider has to offer, and what it really offers in reality, I think not even 10% of 100% would be satisfied.

  4. Alan says:

    In Bures, Suffolk I have only one choice of provider :EE 4g
    In my front room Vodaphone, O2 and 3, No signal
    Occasionally Vodaphone will give me One bar of 3g

  5. Mark says:

    New_Londonert there’s no mast for 3 miles, tightly packed narrow streets make the problem worse, and also the ability of the minority to stop all mast being built closer, thats the problem, when I asked what can be done in the areas with hostile nimbys?

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