The end of dodgy mobile coverage?

Written by on November 6, 2014 in Guest Blog with 2 Comments
Mobile coverage is one of those things that seems like it should always be better. However in the UK we do suffer from patchy coverage, especially when compared to my anecdotal experience elsewhere. This is especially true on railway lines and in rural areas, however, even in London my iPhone spends as much time on GPRS as on 3G or 4G (as did every other iPhone I’ve used so it’s not faulty!). A recent report by OpenSignal confirms that coverage (and indeed data speeds) could be much better in the UK.
The UK government seems to have lost patience with the mobile operators and is talking about mandating national roaming to ensure coverage in areas that are only covered by another network. Whilst this has the superficial appeal of improving coverage it could have some unfortunate side effects:
  • Disincentivise operators from investing to improve their own coverage because they can rely on their competitors.
  • In areas where no operator has coverage there will be no incentive to be the one to spend the money to do something about it.
  • If one operator has to start carrying traffic from all the others then service quality will collapse under the capacity constraints in that area.
  • The focus has been on voice calls, whereas for many data is more important, especially as it can carry voice.
A far better way to incentivise operators to improve coverage would be via a combination of other factors:
  • Relaxing planning constraints on the siting and height of cellular masts to help the operators extend their networks.
  • Mandate, potentially via legislation, more sharing of network infrastructure to extend the existing sharing agreements.
  • A review of licence coverage requirements to take account of factors like railway lines, overall landmass, rural areas, as well as population percentages.
  • Ensure the improvements are not just focussed on voice calls but include mobile data.
Whilst I would normally prefer to leave it to the operators to improve things perhaps we do need regulatory action? Whatever the outcome of the current discussions, we need to see real disruption in the existing approach to mobile coverage.

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About the Author

About the Author: Jonathan has been working in payments for 18 years covering digital money, identity verification, telco billing, finance systems and consumer payment services; in both startup and corporate environments. Most recently, his experience is in developing alternative consumer payment models. "I'm passionate about removing the friction and frustration from payments. The convergence of payments and mobile technology and its impact on consumers fascinates me." You can follow Jonathan on Twitter at @sevendotzero .


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  1. Robin Burton says:

    In national roaming, just like international roaming, the visited network charges the home networks. Thus you might well be incentivised to seek out locations with an adequate total footprint for erecting a mast as long as you are able to charge a suitable amount. Legislators need to ensure that charging schemes encourage this.

    However operators will also need control over when their customers attach to roaming partners. There will be huge degrees of overlap. Once acquired by roaming partner networks, subscribers with live data sessions will be retained by them, even when coverage from the home network reappears.

    We have developed a solution for this, so that should not be a problem either.

  2. Jonathan Jensen says:

    Good point about charging. I guess if national roaming is mandated then the charge has to be set high enough to encourage the roaming operator to build their own coverage and not rely on the host network’s coverage in perpetuity.

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