5th November 2014
The Government is set to announce plans to demand mobile providers improve their network coverage.
The plan to eradicate partial “notspots”, where there is coverage from some but not all operators, may include a requirement for companies to share their rivals’ networks.
Poor signal affects a fifth of the UK, meaning people are unable to send text messages or make phone calls.
Customers could be automatically transferred onto a rival provider’s network when they have no signal, just like when they are using roaming services abroad.
The Government is in talks with mobile providers to look at different options, although these are currently only intended to improve 2G services.
Sajid Javid, the culture secretary, said: “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,” he said.
As well as national roaming, the Government is proposing infrastructure sharing so that mobile companies could put transmitters on each other’s masts.
It is also proposing that agreements like the ones that Virgin and Tesco have with single providers could be extended to cover all networks.
Another option would be to require every network to commit to covering a proportion of the UK and leave up to the company to figure out how.
But, the Times newspaper has reported that a leaked letter contains a warning from the Home Secretary Theresa May that allowing people to roam between networks could compromise efforts to track criminals and terrorists.
Other critics of the Government’s roaming plan say that it would run down the batteries of peoples’ phones.
Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com, said: “In this day and age, mobile signal – or the lack of it – really shouldn’t be an issue, whether you live in the middle of the city or the middle of nowhere.
“Whilst national roaming could certainly help people suffering in not-spot areas, a far more considered approach is needed than telling the networks they need to learn how to share.
“National roaming only tackles partial not-spots, so it would have no impact at all on people living in UK blackspots, where no coverage is available on any network. However, continued investment in our network infrastructure would help to address this issue.”
He said that by allowing networks to ride on the coat tails of others, the Government would remove any incentive for underperforming networks to invest in improving their existing infrastructure.
Doku added: “Consumers are bound to see a financial knock-on effect if the Government does force national roaming through, which will only penalise the providers with the best coverage. Bills could rise yet again if some mobile networks try to recoup the losses through their customers.”