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National roaming a solid plan or just hot air?
Monday 23 June 2014 13:24:08 by Andrew Ferguson

In theory some £150m of public money has been given to Arqiva to greatly improve mobile coverage in the rural parts of the UK and while there was some news on the first mast back in 2013, the news output that we've seen minimal announcements since then. Fast forward 9 months and say hello to our new Culture Secretary Sajid Javid who is keen to back the idea of national roaming, i.e. if your phone cannot connect to your existing provider it will piggyback on which of the other networks it can see.

So this begs the question has the Mobile Infrastructure Project failed, or like so many political ideas this is one to solve a specific problem and ensure people are seen to be doing something, i.e. avoid one MP needing to squat against a sink to get a signal or the Prime Minister complaining about reception in his constituency. Though he should be thankful that unlike some previous Prime Minister's he does not have to keep loose change in the car for contacting Downing Street from a payphone and the cabinet in a time of national crisis.

Enabling roaming between operators sounds like an easy solution, but with the operators already sharing the physical masts (just adding their own antenna and renting part of the backhaul) the difference in coverage may just be down to the way that different frequencies propagate through the objects between you and the mast.

The EU has mandated that roaming will be free in the EU from 2016 and some operators are already embracing the idea of allowing people to use their data allowance and call bundles when abroad rather than charging an arm and a leg. There is one danger of enabling it at the national level though, it may reduce the incentive for operators to compete and result in the creation of an infrastructure monopoly, not unlike the one for fixed broadband with the national copper network from Openreach. The end result being that by the time 5G spectrum auctions are held there will be just one bidder and a lot less income to the Government purse.


Posted by dogbark over 2 years ago
David Heath, MP for Somerton and Frome, said he was forced to “squat against the sink” to take phone calls from his office.
Posted by FlappySocks over 2 years ago
Separating the infrastructure from the providers makes much more sense. Overlapping coverage costs money, which savings could be used to fill in the gaps.
Posted by dogbark over 2 years ago
"some operators are already embracing the idea of allowing people to use ??there?? data allowance" ??
Posted by gerarda over 2 years ago
The original plan was "to greatly improve mobile coverage in the rural parts of the UK" by improving coverage to 6 million homes.

Unfortunately the contract with Arqiva requires them to improve coverage to just 1% of that total so it is hardly surprising the news is minimal.
Posted by TheEulerID over 2 years ago
If roaming is to be free other than in your home country then get your SIM abroad...
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
The vision of David Cameroon by the sink has been corrected and I fixed my 'their' slip.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
@TheEulerID as part of the single market then yes buying a SIM online and getting it delivered to a UK address should be no problem. Wondering how well it will work, i.e. does EU regs forbid some clause where can only be using in bundle roaming for x days every 90 days for example?
Posted by Michael_Chare over 2 years ago
Mobile phones are like broadband. The performance tends to reduce when you are not in densely populated areas. This appears to be a surprise for those that live in the Westminster bubble.
Posted by ValueforMoney over 2 years ago
He could just demand Ofcom enforce the 98% (95% by nation)coverage obligation by 2017 held by 02. It's 2MBps indoors with identifiable db signals. Beyond that signal boosters and antennas could be used.

I am assuming the network sharing deal with VODA means they will also offer the 98% - 2Mbps indoors.
Posted by burakkucat over 2 years ago
"i.e. avoid one MP needing to squat against a sink to get a sink"

Perhaps you would now care to correct the above nonsense?
Posted by csimon over 2 years ago
Roaming won't work when there's no acceptable signal in the first place. It seems this has been introduced to please those who normally have excellent access (cities?) but then find their provider has less coverage when they venture out of their normal area, and maybe another operator has better access there. What about people who actually live in areas where there is little or no coverage anyway? Again, this is a case of providing even better service to areas already well served.
Posted by chrysalis over 2 years ago
whats funny about this is that rural cover/performance for 3g is better than city areas, city areas have performance issues much more than rural I think due to combination of congestion and buildings blocking signals.
Posted by csimon over 2 years ago
That's a very generalised comment, I'm in a rural area and there is patchy 2G coverage and basically non-existsent 3G. This is due to mountains blocking signals...
Posted by fredforest over 2 years ago
@TheEulerID EU roaming won't be free, just the same price as home, eventually.

The problem, as others have already pointed out, is that there are a lack of masts in the countryside with suitable backhaul. EE and 3 already mast share and Voda and o2 are working in a similar way, in some spots all 4 of the big operators have to share infrastructure.

In this area there were fervent campaigns against masts in the early 2000's and as a result we have miserable coverage and lot's of complaints. Sometimes from the very people who campaigned against the masts.
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