'My reception was so bad even O2 couldn't call me'

BBC Technology 25 Oct 2019 12:31
By Katie Silver Business reporter
Sian Davies and her husbandImage copyright Supplied

A promise to end rural 'not-spots' can't come too soon for Sian Davies. She moved to Rossett, north-east Wales, with her husband this year - and the lack of mobile coverage has been "a real bugbear".

"The signal is almost non-existent," she said. "If I want to send or receive texts, I have to go upstairs in my home," she said.

She's not alone. Currently one third of the UK has patchy or non-existent mobile phone coverage.

But on Friday, a £1bn plan between the UK's four main mobile phone companies and the government was unveiled with the aim of banishing these signal dead zones.

The proposed deal - which includes EE, O2, Three and Vodafone - promises to get 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025.

The operators would invest in new and existing phone masts they would all share under the proposal, which the government hopes will be formalised early next year.

It is estimated that an additional 280,000 homes and businesses and 16,000km of roads will have coverage.

The government had threatened to force the mobile firms to allow customers to roam onto each other's networks in not-spots, a move the companies said would deter new investment.

Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan said "it is not yet a done deal and I want to see industry move quickly so we can reach a final agreement early next year."

"Rossett is only six miles from both Chester and Wrexham, yet we are lucky to even get 3G never mind 4G," she said.

She contacted the company when it announced it was rolling out 5G: "I am flabbergasted that they can do this when many people cannot even get 3G!"

It was under David Cameron's government that poor rural mobile coverage became a live issue - the Prime Minister was reportedly maddened by the lack of a mobile signal on his Cornish holidays, and residents and businesses in the countryside were understandably angry that poor connectivity was excluding them from the digital revolution.

But the threat has forced them to come up with a plan to invest £500m in a shared network which will see one mast hosting antennas from several operators.

Now though the final details of the deal have to be agreed - and rural residents may still have to wait some years before they can be confident of connecting wherever they are.

Vodafone's chief technology officer, Scott Petty, told the BBC the plan has been 12 months in the making.

'Unleash investment'

"We have been hugely frustrated at the lack of progress in improving mobile reception to date," he said.

Felicity Burch, director of digital and innovation at business lobby group the CBI, said the proposal would "unleash investment and boost productivity".

She is worried though that her area will miss out: "I fear they may concentrate on more remote areas, and places such as Rossett which are relatively close to large urban areas, will be forgotten."

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