There’s a popular misconception that mobile networks don’t have blackspots in urban areas.
The reality is often different, as many frustrated customers will readily acknowledge.
Even in city centres, a traditional building with thick stone walls might prevent 4G data signals reaching its occupants.
If you live in a rural region where cell towers are few and far between, network blackspots represent a significant issue.
If your village pub has hanging baskets outside windowsills which are deep enough to rest encyclopaedias on, you may need WiFi to stay connected while enjoying a pint.
What causes network blackspots?
A number of factors might contribute to recurring signal dropouts:
- Lack of cell towers. Around town, devices are seamlessly handed from one mast to the next as people move around. In rural regions, one mast may have to cover a large area.
- Cell tower faults. Like any electrical apparatus, transmission equipment occasionally fails. Fractional misalignment caused by severe weather could also diminish efficacy.
- Surrounding terrain. Forests, hills and tall buildings all reduce the distance signals can travel, causing interference en route.
- Walls. We mentioned how stone walls can be unyielding, but concrete is similarly stubborn. Metallic surfaces like rainscreen cladding could also muffle signals.
- Phone aerials. Modern smartphones lack their ancestors’ external aerials, and some are criticised for weak signal strength. Protective metal cases may impede signals, too.
The UK’s mobile network operators acknowledge fluctuations in coverage across the country.
That’s why their websites feature interactive maps, usually alongside postcode search tools with zoom-and-scan functionality.
These maps tend to highlight three levels of service: areas with good internal signal strength, areas with good external signal strength, and areas with little or no coverage.
These generally correlate to population maps. Densely populated districts have the best coverage, whereas isolated coastal regions tend to have the worst coverage ratios.
Before signing up to a particular network operator, investigate how their coverage stacks up where you work, live and socialise.
If you’re a farmer, strong outdoor coverage is essential. If you work from a converted home basement, internal signal strength needs to be robust enough to cope.
You could even buy a cheap pay-as-you-go SIM to test the waters, before committing to a long-term contract.
Lodging a complaint
If you’re already experiencing network blackspots, it’s worth complaining to your operator.
They won’t be able to do much if a lack of cell towers is to blame, but they may be able to provide a signal booster or supply an alternative handset.
If complaining doesn’t achieve a resolution, escalating matters to an alternative dispute resolution service might yield a more sympathetic outcome.
These independent bodies arbitrate on complaints against mobile networks, reaching a fair conclusion which often includes rulings about compensation or contract cancellation.