National Roaming Plans May Reduce Coverage Blackspots, But Networks Aren't Convinced

By Gerald Lynch on at

The government has announced that it will be entering into a consultation period with the major UK networks in an attempt to wipe out so called "partial not-spots" where mobile signal coverage can be shoddy.

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid has approached EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, looking to find a way that the networks can share infrastructure to allow mobile phone users to "roam" onto another network's signal when their own is unavailable. This would also require that MVNO operators like Tesco Mobile (which uses O2 infrastructure) offer contracts that could work across all networks.

"I’m determined to ensure the UK has world-class mobile phone coverage as investment in infrastructure will help drive this government’s long-term economic plan," said Javid.

"It can’t be right that in a fifth of the UK, people cannot use their phones to make a call. The government isn’t prepared to let that situation continue."

However, while the networks are prepared to co-operate on the scheme, few seem convinced that the plans outlined by the Culture Secretary will be the most effective solution to the problem.

"We fully support the government on the joint ambition to improve rural coverage. What we don't want to do is implement the flawed concept of ‘national roaming’," reads an EE statement on the matter.

"This will deteriorate network reliability for tens of millions across the UK, plus it also risks prices rising, which customers understandably won't tolerate."

Vodafone too voiced concerns about the plans.

"National roaming will not provide the people of the UK with better quality voice and mobile internet coverage," said a Vodafone spokesperson.

"In fact, it would make coverage and quality significantly worse from the customers' perspective, with a much higher risk of dropped calls, lower battery life and negative impact on services such as voicemail."

One network source who asked to remain anonymous told Gizmodo that national roaming plans could impact the growth of future mobile standards too, such as 5G, as money would have to be put aside for new low-cost 2G infrastructure in order to guarantee nation-wide coverage.

It's a tough one. Networks that have invested heavily in strong nationwide coverage will feel put out by having lesser networks piggybacking off their expensive work, while the forced investment will also affect their future upgrade plans. However, with it in their interests for the plans to be approached on their terms, take the network's concerns with a pinch of salt -- the promise of nationwide coverage, in theory at least, is a very attractive one. [Gov.uk]

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