Crackdown on mobile phones might improve coverage
We waited and waited to see if the DCMS was going to actually publish the proposals so that it was possible to see what was actually said, rather than the short quotes from the Culture Secretary but as of 9:45am the DCMS website where in theory any policy consultation on mobile coverage should appear is still headlining with the free public WiFi news of five days ago.
Update 11am The consultation is now online, Tackling Partial Not-Spots in Mobile Phone Coverage.
Addressing mobile not-spots is something people both in rural and urban parts of the UK have moaned about for some years, and in theory the Mobile Infrastructure Project was meant to help improve things, but after the initial deployment of a couple of new masts as far as we are aware the £150m project has done very little, £150m to help just some 60,000 does not represent value for money.
"I’m determined to ensure the UK has world-class mobile phone coverage as investment in infrastructure will help drive this Government’s long-term economic plan.
It can’t be right that in a fifth of the UK, people cannot use their phones to make a call. The Government isn’t prepared to let that situation continue.
We’ve been talking to the mobile companies about the problem and they are working with us to find a solution.
This consultation will complement the work industry is doing and allow the Government to hear from the wider telecoms sector, businesses and the public.
Businesses have been clear about the importance of mobile phones and improved coverage will help deliver jobs and economic security."Sajid Javid, Culture Secretary
There is a consultation due to appear with a deadline of the 26th November, which will not give industry long to produce fully fleshed out responses, but our response is that while resolving not-spots for voice services is a noble task, why is the Government only addressing 2G coverage? 2G means only GPRS based data services which is effectively useless for accessing the digital world, if the Government is serious about world-class mobile coverage it would be looking to ensure universal 4G coverage, not an easy task but technically possible.
To make voice available to everyone, ideas such as mast sharing and a national roaming scheme are proposed, but as some mobile operators have previously reached agreements and have reshaped their network some people have seen cell towers dismantled and coverage reduced as operators reduce costs via mast sharing. Deploying the more efficient 4G and speeding up the process to release the 700 MHz band which will improve coverage from existing towers needs to be proper priority and combine this with access to lower cost backhaul infrastructure will help avoid the I have full bar signal but data traffic is crawling problem.
This new MKII attempt to resolve mobile voice coverage might just be a reflection that we are only 6 months away from the next General Election.
Now having read the report, rather than the interpretation of what others have said we can summarise the 53 pages.
- Importantly these proposals are about addressing the partial not-spots, i.e. where signal from at least one operator is available. Thus for those of you who already travel with two mobiles split across the mast sharing agreements these proposals may not improve things.
- The over 20% of the UK affected by partial not-spots is referring to land mass.
- The Project Beacon to share infrastructure between O2 and Vodafone may reduce the 21% partial not-spot figure to 13%.
- France used national roaming as part of a subsidised project to address total not-spots back in 2003 to 2008 when new masts were installed.
- Loss of data services as mobiles roam to an available 2G signal on the edges of 3G/4G areas has been identified as a risk, but network preference settings can control this. The report is not explicit on this but we presume end-user turning off roaming in the handset.
- 1.5 million of us live in partial not-spots, Project Beacon may reduce this to 1 million.
- Total not-spots are still to be addressed by the £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project
- National Roaming could start a roll-out in 2016, and would only apply to areas known as partial not-spots
- Passive Infrastructure Sharing could start in 2017
- Support for multiple operator virtual network operator agreements could roll-out mid 2016
- Focus on 2G voice and messaging services as Ofcom survey of consumers identified this as considered essential
- 4G is expected to reach 98% of homes indoors by the end of 2017 based on agreements that are part of licences
The report has a series of questions that are posed and where public and industry views are sought, with responses required by 26th November 2014.