Along with a wallet and keys, the mobile phone is an item we rarely, if ever, leave the house without. This technology has become an integral part of everyday life, with Ofcom figures suggesting that by the first quarter of this year, 94 per cent of adults in the UK personally owned or used a mobile phone, three quarters of adults had a smart phone and nearly one in five lived in a mobile-only household.
So how is it that so many of us are still struggling to get even the most basic service from our network provider?
Published a year ago, our report Connected Future highlighted how the UK was lagging in the international league tables for 4G technology. Now, a new definition of good mobile coverage suggests the situation could be even worse. Following our recommendation, Ofcom announced as part of their annual Connected Nations report that they would measure mobile coverage as being able to make an uninterrupted call for 90 seconds. Based on this new measurement, coverage could be as much as 10 per cent lower than previously thought.
This means whole parts of the country that were considered to have strong mobile coverage may not be getting it at all. In fact, Ofcom’s report showed that almost a third of the UK’s geography is unable to receive good coverage from all four of the major mobile operators for calls and text messaging, and total 4G coverage is unavailable across more than half the UK’s landmass.
In a world ever-more dependent on mobile communications this situation is completely unacceptable, leaving entire communities cut off from the opportunities that this technology presents. Those in rural areas are particularly badly affected, but these figures suggest that even those living in urban areas may also be suffering from poor connections.
There are plans afoot for the medium to long term – roll-out of the next mobile spectrums are due over the next three years, and a Government review of the telecoms sector seeks to maximise investment in next generation technologies including full fibre. But these communities can’t wait that long – they need action now.
That’s why our chairman, Lord Adonis, has written to Ofcom’s chief executive Sharon White, urging her to work urgently with Government to tackle the situation. He’s made clear the need to put all possible options on the table – including regulatory and legal changes – to make this happen. This could include such measures as mobile mast sharing between operators; making sure all parts of the mobile spectrum are put to use, and introducing roaming so customers can move from their network provider to signals offered by other providers when they are stronger.
While Government is responsible for policy development, it is the regulator that has the in-depth expertise, and we believe it has a responsibility to advise what can and should be done to ensure mobile coverage reaches an acceptable standard. We’ve offered to sit down with Ofcom to discuss what steps could be taken quickly, and easily, to resolve the situation – and the enforcement action it could take against operators that don’t meet their obligations.
As we engage with Ofcom, and the Government, we want to see swift action to ensure customers across the country get the mobile service they pay for and deserve.