Earlier this year, a research study conducted by a consumer group named Which? revealed that the UK lagged 39 other countries where phone users could access 4G signals at least 60 per cent of the time. This meant that even though mobile broadband speeds offered by UK mobile networks were the fastest in the world, the reach wasn't even close. A new report published today by Britain's National Infrastructure Commission confirms the same story. The report says that Britain ranks 54th in the world for 4G coverage and that "there are too many digital deserts and partial not spots, even within our city centres."
EE promises to cover all of UK with 4G services by 2020
The National Infrastructure Commission commissioned a study to find out what the country needs to do to become a world leader in 5G deployment. "Britain is 54th in the world for 4G coverage, and the typical user can only access 4G barely half the time. Our 4G network is worse than Romania and Albania, Panama and Peru. Our roads and railways can feel like digital deserts and even our city centres are plagued by not spots where connectivity is impossible. That isn’t just frustrating, it is increasingly holding British business back as more and more of our economy requires a connected workforce," said the resulting report.
The Commission believes that given that 93% of adults in the UK now own mobile phones, it becomes imperative that 4G coverage should be made available to all to ensure people can stay connected and conduct business smoothly at all times. The Commission believes that while efforts should be made to ensure effective deployment of 5G in the future, "none of this will matter unless we bring our mobile network up to speed. The existing system does not provide the level of coverage we will need in our connected future. We need a new universal service obligation which ensures that the mobile essentials – like text, talk and data – are available to us wherever we need them.
No 4G half the time you travel across the UK!
The Commission has recommended that mobile coverage should be a must in major motorways, railway networks and hundreds of towns and cities and that it is the responsibility of the Government and Ofcom to ensure basic outdoor mobile services wherever people work, live and travel. The government must be made accountable to ensure effective digital infrastructure and that "Ofcom should develop a meaningful set of metrics to that represent the coverage people actually receive and use these to determine a mobile Universal Service Obligation so that consumers can access essential services where they are needed."
The report comes at a time when major UK networks are seemingly in disagreement with the way mobile spectrum is being allocated and what should be the way for the future. In late November, EE announced that it had switched on it's 800 MHz 4G signal, thereby enhancing it's 4G coverage to 75% of UK's landmass. The network used the opportunity to 'ask' other competing networks to 'come clean on coverage' and to use geographical coverage as the standard industry measurement to let consumers know where they can make calls and use mobile data. EE supports it's talk with the results of a recent survey which revealed that because of confusion about mobile network coverage, consumers are developing false expectations about where to make calls or use data, especially in rural areas. EE has also requested Ofcom to support it's initiative and has pledged that it will start providing geographical coverage data to it's consumers by January of next year.
MPs ask for mobile network roaming in patchy coverage areas
Following EE's announcement, a consortium of companies like Three, TalkTalk, CityFibre, Federation of Communication Services, Gamma and Relish stated that there should be more competition in the UK mobile space which will in turn encourage better customer service, lower prices and more choices to customers. The next batch of mobile spectrum auction is about to commence, and the consortium wants mobile phone users to petition to Sharon White, CEO at Ofcom, to ensure that no mobile network can own any more than 30% of UK's mobile airwaves. People can do so by either visiting MakeTheAirFair.org or by tweeting with the hashtag #TellSharon.
Three and other networks have a point here. A couple of networks owning three-fourths of the country's airwaves surely inhibits competition and the consortium claims that only Thailand and Malaysia have a larger imbalance of airwaves compared to the UK. Via advertisements through various channels, the consortium hopes to turn Sharon White as the champion for UK consumers and as a promoter of fair competition. Will millions of petitions and opinion polls help her make up her mind? It may not be so simple as it sounds.