Adonis urges Ofcom on need for urgent action to improve mobile coverage

With large parts of the country having to manage unreliable mobile coverage, the chairman of National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has called on Ofcom to propose an urgent action plan to the government on solving the issue.

Lord Adonis has written the letter to Ofcom’s chief executive Sharon White as a response to the watchdog’s annual report on the UK’s communications infrastructure. While welcoming Ofcom’s work, Adonis has highlighted findings in the Connected Nations 2017 report which show levels of coverage across the UK are in reality around ten percentage points lower than previously claimed by mobile operators. 

Adonis believes it's now crucial that all options are considered to radically improve mobile coverage in the UK and ensure that consumers receive the service they pay for and deserve. 

He added: “Poor rural coverage remains an issue of concern, with nearly four out of every five premises unable to receive an indoor 4G service. Meanwhile many people are struggling to get a decent signal on the UK’s railways. In an age when access to a mobile signal is regarded as a must-have, it is deplorable that even in areas previously considered to have strong coverage, operators are still delivering such poor services that customers can struggle to make a quick phone call.”

Ofcom’s report also reveals less than half of the UK receives full 4G coverage from all four major mobile operators with those in rural areas or travelling on railway lines particularly affected. Network operators are expected to deliver coverage to 90% of the country but research indicates they are achieving only around 80% in practice.

Adonis now wants Ofcom to require mobile operators to provide better geographic coverage as part of their licensing requirements, and to ramp up pressure on ensuring they act in the short to medium term.

In response to Adonis’s letter, Ofcom's chief technology officer Steve Unger, said: “We completely agree that mobile coverage must urgently improve, which will take concerted action from industry, government and the regulator. We’re playing our part by enforcing rules for better coverage, and preparing to set new rules in operators’ licences. We’re also boosting the capacity of mobile networks by releasing new airwaves, and helping to improve coverage on trains.”

In October, the NIC launched a public consultation on the quality of the state of UK infrastructure generally and singled out mobile services as an area needing urgent attention. A report last year said the UK was being held back by poor mobile phone connectivity and 4G mobile phone coverage in the country was worse than in Albania, Panama, Peru and Romania.

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