How many times have you had one of those mobile conversations that constantly dips in and out before communication finally flitters away in to blankness? Too many, I hear you call! And it’s not surprising considering the high level of ‘not spots’ in the UK’s mobile coverage.
According to Ofcom’s report in January 2015, “coverage of mobile voice services has remained at or above 99% of premises over the last 10 years.” What they also go on to say is that “while these aggregate figures for mobile household coverage are encouraging, patchy or non-existent coverage in some locations (‘not spots’ and ‘partial not spots’) means there is significant room for improvement.”
Getting connected in some outdoor locations is currently next to impossible. Indeed, only 9% of the UK’s A and B roads, and many minor roads, are not actually covered with 3G by any mobile operator, not to mention a large proportion of rail routes, including main train lines. And with the demand for networks to be super-reliable in the future as 5G heads this way, maybe the way we define ‘mobile coverage’ needs to be seriously adjusted.
Despite Ofcom’s ‘agreement’ with Telefonica UK (O2 use), who is obliged “to provide a mobile broadband service for indoor reception to at least 98% of the UK population (expected to cover at least 99% when outdoors) and at least 95% of the population of each of the UK nations – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – by the end of 2017 at the latest,” there doesn’t appear to be much evidence that this target will be achieved. Coverage in many buildings and households, in rural locations, on trains, in cars, and other areas is still intermittent, if not very poor. And when 5G hits our mobile devices, the demand for connectivity, speed of access, and performance guarantees on ultra-reliable networks is only going to increase and the need for a high level of connection ‘on the go’, including minor roads and remote locations, is going to be required.
So, what’s the answer? Well, removing some of the red tape that Vodafone complain about which surrounds the improvement and/or addition of sites is one area; another area is Ofcom regulating on the economic front, helping operators to secure affordable rents from land infrastructure owners so that expansion becomes a viable prospect, particularly for small cell sites that at the moment provide basic, modest returns and restricts the level of usage of this technology – this technology is used around the world for underground railway coverage.
It’s costly for mobile operators and telecommunications providers to invest in getting a broader coverage across the UK, with little return on investment and they need to justify this cost. They want to improve the network infrastructure; they want to invest in new technology including small cell sites and backhaul to macro, and small cells indoors and outdoors, but this is expensive. More help from regulators and the government to reduce the cost of spectrum fees and auction transfers to free up capital to allow investment in infrastructure and improving coverage would be a better way forward for all, and maybe then we can surpass Ofcom’s target.