Large swathes of the UK have no 4G coverage and urgent action must be taken, the government’s head of infrastructure has warned.
Journalist-turned-politician Andrew (now Lord) Adonis was speaking in his role as the chairman of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission.
In a letter to Ofcom’s Chief Executive Sharon White, Lord Adonis said legal changes should be considered to force networks to improve mobile and broadband coverage.
‘Good’ mobile coverage
The source of his frustration came from Ofcom’s own Connected Nations Report, released on Friday 15 December.
It found 1.1 million people are still unable to get 10Mbps broadband at home, while only 43% of the country has reliable access to 4G data.
Mobile signal coverage, which allows people to make uninterrupted phone calls for at least 90 seconds, could also be 10% lower than previously thought.
This is because Ofcom has changed the way it records this data. Networks like EE and Vodafone are expected to offer good coverage to 90% of the country but new figures show this could be as low as 80% in real life.
Total 4G coverage, where users can access good reception from all four networks (EE, Vodafone, Three and O2) is only available in less than half of the UK’s landmass.
When it comes to calls and texts, 30% of the UK’s geographic area does not get a signal from all four networks.
Lord Adonis said whole areas could be suffering from far worse mobile and 4G signal than previously thought.
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.- Lord Adonis: Chairman, National Infrastructure Committee
In total 70% of the UK’s landmass gets a strong 2G signal outdoors. This falls to 63% for a 3G service capable of tranmitting mobile data.
Lord Adonis’ 2016 report identified mobile networks as crucial to the success of the UK economy but found that signal was still poor in large areas of the country.
His researchers discovered that 4G coverge in the UK was slower and available in fewer places than Albania, Panama, Peru and Romania.
In the letter to Sharon White he added: “The situation is even worse than we thought. It demonstrates the need for urgent and radical action to tackle this issue immediately, ahead of new mobile spectrum being auctioned and 5G technology being rolled out.”
Adonis says as the UK’s telecoms regulator, Ofcom must step in and act to “put all possible options on the table…to ensure customers can get the service they pay for”.
Rail, roads, city centres
It’s not just rural areas that suffer from shoddy signal. Places set up for commuters such as rail stations and railway lines, major roads and city centres often do not have solid 4G data connections, nor are they able to offer fault-free mobile calls.
These “digital deserts”, the National Infrastructure Committee said, were holding the UK back from greater productivity and better consumer satisfaction.