Broadband News

UK languishing in the digital slow lane

5G may be the next great hope for universal mobile broadband but it is also going to need a complete rethink for how its deployed if the existing 4G slow and not-spot problems are to be avoided. The National Infrastructure Commission has waded into the debate on how good or bad the digital infrastructure of the UK is, particularly with regard to the existing 4G services.

"The Commission’s central finding is that mobile connectivity has become a necessity. The market has driven great advances since the advent of the mobile phone but government must now play an active role to ensure that basic services are available wherever we live, work and travel, and our roads, railways and city centres must be made 5G ready as quickly as possible.

Government and Ofcom must ensure that essential outdoor mobile services – such as basic talk, text and data - are available wherever we live, work and travel:

  • Britain is 54th in the world for 4G (the typical user can only access 4G 53% of the time), there are too many digital deserts and partial not spots, even within our city centres.
  • Government and 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.
  • Government and Ofcom should deliver this as a soon as is practical but no later than 2025."
National Infrastructure Commission of UK mobile landscape

The data from OpenSignal is reliant on its crowd sourcing and its maps are viewable at opensignal.com and with the many data points collected via its app thus it easy for individuals to assess how their local area stands or whether more data might be needed.

7590-uk-mobile-speeds-map-thumb.png Click image for larger version

We also have a good chunk of data on mobile broadband speeds too and while the mobile map does have a number of holes (dark blue areas are those where our data volume is low or we have no data), either due to no decent signal or a lack of people testing in the areas where we have enough data to talk about you can see there is a wide variation in speeds. For those who have enough data allowance (and each test will download 40MB of data on a 30 Mbps connection, plus upload a similar amount, slower connection less data, faster more data) there is a version of our speed test that will ask for permission to use browser location information and if you keep the browser page open after a test has finished it will automatically run another in 10 minutes (NOTE: For those accessing via a desktop browser the web app is likely to complain about poor geo-location, this version works best on a device with GPS).

One problem with making the UK 5G ready is that no one actually knows what density of masts are needed and 5G means lots of different things, e.g. the a chunk of 700 MHz spectrum would be ideal for low data rate signalling as part of the Internet of Things and for covering road/rail network, but the ultrafast connectivity is going to need the higher frequency spectrum and thus more masts, at the extreme end the multi Gigabit speed tests research labs are posting if they are to be more than click bait will need almost a mini mast in every room.

The 4G and spectrum auction debate in the UK has taken an interesting turn with the recent start of a Make The Air Fair campaign which is pushing hard to get the Ofcom CEO Sharon White to enact rules ensuring that no single operator can hold more than 30% of the spectrum. Certainly a lot of the current coverage issues stem back to the expensive 3G licence auction, and the way EE and BT combined now hold 45% of the mobile spectrum. An equal split is interesting, but there are technical issues as if you sub divide the bands too much so that everyone ends up with a fair share in each band and no provider will be able to match faster services of even today on 4G. If Ofcom were to go ahead with the plan that three, CityFibre, Relish, TalkTalk and Gamma are calling for then it should also consider ways to force operators who how existing spectrum to provide a national service, or relinquish that block of spectrum i.e. run a cap but also a use it or lose it policy.

Comments

An enforcement plan for the 4G coverage obligations held by 02 would be helpful, 98% of premises indoors with a signal strength to support 2Mbps by the end of 2017. Parliament voted for 98%, independent Ofcom reduced this to 98% but 95% by devolved nation. So much for returning power to Parliament.

  • ValueforMoney
  • 10 months ago

I saw that poster of 'Sharon' coming over Wandsworth Bridge. I thought I was seeing things. Hopefully a good settlement for a charity for mis-using her identity.

  • ValueforMoney
  • 10 months ago

The ideal would be to create a shared infrastructure, thus reducing unnecessary duplication.
This would be particularly effective in current "Not-Spots" substantially reducing costs of providing service for customers of all networks.

  • wittgenfrog
  • 10 months ago

Not sure if I agree with their stats - I'm in Tenby in Pembrokeshire (yellow part in South-West Wales on above map). We have 2 4g aerials in my town and I never receive below 30MBps down with BT. In fact, it's often well above that.

  • welshwarrior
  • 10 months ago

The UK's problems started with the gross amount of money sucked out of the industry for the 3G spectrum auction ... and we're still paying for it now with insufficient masts, insufficient capacity and insufficient coverage.

The government now says "that mobile connectivity has become a necessity". Back then, they thought of it as a cash cow instead.

The laws of unintended consequences will always come and bite you in the a...

  • WWWombat
  • 10 months ago

As for the imbalance in spectrum between MNOs, well, there is certainly something in this.

EE are using big chunks of their spectrum for marketing, not raw capacity. They choose to offer their double-speed, the 4G+ service, and the 800MHz VoLTE services to a subset - the ones paying the biggest bucks. These services all, in one form or another, partition the spectrum.

I'm not sure the other companies have enough spectrum to be able to do this easily.

However, this issue really affects the way that network capacity is allocated, rather than the coverage.

  • WWWombat
  • 10 months ago

If the government now sees that mobile infrastructure is a basic necessity that grows the country's economy, rather than a money-making asset of MNOs, then they are going to need a rethink about how and why they charge for the allocation of spectrum.

  • WWWombat
  • 10 months ago

Perhaps Government should nationalise and then operators all become virtual operators.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 10 months ago

Welsh Warrior.
You ought to download the app, then at the end of a charge period if you have spare data, drive round the town testing. That will update the map and improve the stats.
You could even try some of the out of town areas (the beach), this may encourage more people to come to Tenby due to the essential 4G coverage :-)

  • jumpmum
  • 10 months ago

@andrew - Not a bad suggestion, although in the short term they'd make less money - and this current lot don't believe in public ownership.

  • Kebabselector
  • 10 months ago

@jumpmum
That's a very good idea! We're in a good position in Tenby whereby we have 2 masts delivering 4g and also, within the town centre itself, we also have FREE near-blanket WiFi coverage.

I use the ThinkBroadband speedtester all the time to test my 4g speeds so they should be more accurate than shown on the map above - assuming it is their data showing on the map above of course ;)

  • welshwarrior
  • 10 months ago

@WWWombat - yes before that mobile spectrum auction we were one of the leading nations in mobile technology. Just one of Gordon Brown's short term money grabbing schemes, the pensions dividend raid being another, that has done long term harm to the country

  • gerarda
  • 10 months ago

the 800MHz 4G on EE is a problem as they only enabling it if your device supports 4g calling

  • leexgx
  • 10 months ago

Welsh Warrior
The Map is the ThinkBB results, I meant the mobile app for opensignal.com that article is based on. Most test there are only on roads. ( I'm sure it indicates the amount of Driving whilst 'using' !).

  • jumpmum
  • 10 months ago

@andrew
One of my guesses for future regulation is that Ofcom do the same to EE as they've done to Openreach: force wholesale access to the airwaves, just as they've forced LLU and VULA onto fixed-wire.

That allows anyone to become an MVNO in the same way as they piggyback onto Openreach/BTW for data/voice.

That's the closest we can get to nationalisation, and all it takes is for Ofcom to announce EE as having SMP. Having a huge chunk of spectrum might be the thing that allows this to happen.
...

  • WWWombat
  • 10 months ago

I'm pretty sure one of BT's aims is to converge fixed and mobile services enough that your mobile devices just work everywhere - your fixed line, your wifi, other people's wifi, town's wifi, train's wifi, LTE etc.

When we have that world, it will be natural for Ofcom to want to regulate it.

  • WWWombat
  • 10 months ago

@gerarda
Worse than you think. The crash that came about caused MNOs to stop investing, and vendors to make all their development staff redundant. Where did they go? Nice juicy contracts in Shanghai, teaching Huawei how to be "just like Ericsson". That's done long-term damage to the ability for European companies to compete in the marketplace.

Short term money-grabbing in the UK. Long-term effects to global trade.

  • WWWombat
  • 10 months ago

The opensignal map also tells us that the ferryman to the Island ( or a regular visitor) has a 4G EE phone!
It may also indicate that the number of tests is low as Tenby only appears to have EE coverage with a little from Vodafone.

  • jumpmum
  • 10 months ago

Hi Broadband Watchers.
From the above Map results West Surrey Area is showing yellow where Guildford is Blue so it staring to look like the MPs and councillors are not supporting Thinkbroadband data speeds collection by encouraging their voters to use the system even if the speeds are low. You may find that the situation is not as bad as reported.

  • Blackmamba
  • 10 months ago

I can only get GPRS where I live, on my Vodafone (work phone). However I've recently installed a 4G antenna on the house and now use an EE connection for all my broadband. It's costly, at £60/month for 100GB, but I do get 90Mb/s down and 40Mb/s up. Which beats my ADSL (8 down, 0.8 up) by a long way. Just a shame that it's only 100GB.

No FTTC here....

Going back to my Vodafone, everywhere around here is GPRS only, not even a sniff of 3G, let alone 4G.

  • jimwillsher
  • 10 months ago

We came into the 21st century last year - with fibre. Mobile signal is fine provided I go upstairs (get one bar) or go to the nearest hill. Not holding my breathe for any improvement soon. Now if they were to build the current mast another metre or so higher. I think all would be ok.

  • 69bertie
  • 10 months ago

@Blackmamba
You realise that map is restricted to mobile tests?

@jimwillsher
What antenna did you use? Did it take much tuning to point at the mast location?

  • WWWombat
  • 10 months ago

Perhaps sorting out a reliable 2G coverage would be a start? At least then we would have the necessary masts.

  • mikejp
  • 10 months ago

@WWWombat Don't forget all the anti-mast groups that sprang up a few years ago.

  • Pendlemac
  • 10 months ago

Everyone wants coverage but no-one wants masts so what's the answer?

  • mitchja
  • 10 months ago

I fear there is no answer. From the NIC statement
"Government and Ofcom must ensure that essential outdoor mobile services – such as basic talk, text and data - are available wherever we live, work and travel"

That should be the task - let those obsessed with the latest 'tech' froth at the mouth. 5G is all very fancy, clever and gimmicky but once again I can see £Billions being wasted on getting 5G to the usual 'hot spots' while the 2/3G 'slow' and 'not' spots languish. A complete re-run of the broadband fiasco.

Not forgetting it needs the distribution network in the first place.

  • mikejp
  • 10 months ago

Hi Wombat.
Yes I do realise the the information is for mobiles as it is an independent layer of TBB Maps a neighbour in the Hindhead deals with the masts across this wast area. He has trouble getting planning permission for masts and as for a FTTC that was situated outside his home was delayed due to local resistance. NIMBLY.
The Cab was dropped down the workload list by Openreach.

  • Blackmamba
  • 10 months ago

We live in a river valley on Salisbury Plain. No mobile signal where we live. Had the chance of a mast being installed, but the proposed site was in the wrong place and it would have been a blot on the landscape. A local petition to refuse planning permission was successful and the application was withdrawn, but we are told that we will never have another chance. We now rely on EE WiFiCall and it means we have mobile coverage indoors and in the garden and many have switched to EE for this reason. I think it is also available with Vodafone.

  • jabrady10
  • 10 months ago

Just had a look at 'opensignal' in my location and it gives a completely false coverage of 2/3g, such that within 1000m of a 3g mast it shows loads of 'weak signal' readings (with a few 'strong') such as to render the data meaningless, I'm afraid.

  • mikejp
  • 10 months ago

@WWWombat

4G-RUT950 & 4G-XPOL-A0001 Kit from Solwise. The antenna fits on my TV aerial pole and it's omnidirectional, so no need to faff about on the roof for too long. I get 4 bars showing on the RUT950 and get anything between 80Mbps and 90Mbps download.

  • jimwillsher
  • 10 months ago

"one of the leading nations in mobile technology" yes, that was with 3G or less, surely???

This campaign /survey, whatever you wanna call it... is rather one-sided, like other adverts pushing us to get 3D, HD, 4K....

too many salesmen pushing stuff the is not really needed, except for rich geeks who can afford it!

wifi is usually much cheaper, and more reliable that *having* to have high speed, when other tech (HSDPA can do up to 14Mbps, HSPA+ can do upto 168Mbps.. )

The 'availability' maps are unreliable, since signals can drop in and out, etc...

  • comnut
  • 10 months ago

The OpenSignal system is promoted as being able to record the poor or no signal info and upload the data when it gets a signal. So if UK was divided into 25m and someone visited them all we would get a good map.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 10 months ago

@pendelmac, @jabrady
The problems of an all-or-nothing planning system, eh?

MNO's don't care about *you*. If there is a location that is easier to put their masts in, and spend that month's budget, then they'll go for it.

Troublesome areas, or particularly troublesome individuals, are just bypassed. Areas/councils need to figure out how to be friendly towards MNOs.

@mikejp
No MNO will build a site based purely on 2G today. The hardware is multi-standard capable.

  • WWWombat
  • 10 months ago

@comnut
Wakey wakey! We were explicitly talking about the state of the nation prior to the 3G auctions.

  • WWWombat
  • 10 months ago

@jimw
Serious looking router! And good connectors for the antenna.

  • WWWombat
  • 10 months ago

@WWWombat: damned right!!! a static map may SEEM lovely and all that, but what about transponders that 'fail and recover' every 10 minutes or so??
I have experienced this in Kingston, where I would have to use voicemail due to lack of signal, getting a voicemail back ten mins later!!!

  • comnut
  • 10 months ago

prior to the 3G auctions? I was talking about 2g and above abilities...

  • comnut
  • 10 months ago

But back on subject... 5G may be the 'hope' for the companies to try to make some money again...

will 5G be another fiasco, just like 4G when it started??? - the only thing that kept 4G going was admen blatantly pushing it as the solution to everything, that the clueless think is true.... :O

  • comnut
  • 10 months ago

@comnut
"transponders that 'fail and recover' every 10 minutes or so"

a) You probably meant transceivers
b) Your experience is probably better explained by congestion than by transceiver failure. Just because you can see a signal doesn't mean the network has capacity for a call right now.

Having calls fall back to voicemail can be a sign of both a coverage issue and a capacity issue.

I've seen 2G GSM described as 4 calls per MHz. 3G UMTS, by an equivalent measure, is 12 calls per MHz. Resources can get exhausted in both cases, at busy hours.

  • WWWombat
  • 10 months ago

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