/ Technology

Do you lose your cool when you lose signal?

Man mobile signal

You pay, they provide. That’s how I think my mobile contract works. In return for my £20 a month I get to make calls, send texts and use the net from time to time. But what about when your provider doesn’t provide?

We regularly get complaints from readers who have signed up with a mobile provider only to find they can’t get any service. But getting out of your contract is far from simple. Few providers will let you cancel and, in our experience, many will make it difficult for you to leave without paying a hefty exit fee, even when you can prove that you’re not receiving a signal.

Bad reception isn’t just a problem for those living in a house boat on the Norfolk broads or halfway up Mount Snowden. It’s also a problem for those in Birmingham who can’t get signal in their front room, or for the person wandering round their garden in Guildford just to get reception.

You do have rights under the Supply of Goods and Services Act to cancel your contract if you’re not getting a signal, but this can involve the regulator, an Ombudsman service and almost certainly a lot of your time.

Hello, hello?

Your provider should at least accurately tell you whether they provide good coverage where you live before you sign up. But they don’t.

Providers do have network coverage maps on their websites, but these are based on computer predictions. Quite simply they often aren’t accurate enough, so inaccurate that last year the Advertising Standards Agency ordered EE to change its coverage map after a customer complained.

Coverage maps don’t, for example, take into account things such as trees or buildings blocking the signal. So, if you live anywhere in the UK that has, well, buildings or trees these maps aren’t for you.

By the time most people discover they need to lean out of the upstairs bathroom window to take a phone call, it’s already too late to cancel.

Help us map the UK

That’s why we’ve published a mobile phone network coverage map based on real life data. Powered by OpenSignal, the map is based on millions of real signals with data collected by users of OpenSignal’s free app. This gives a more accurate picture of which provider offers the best coverage where you live.

However, there’s more work to be done. If the UK is to have a truly accurate coverage map, OpenSignal needs more data to cover the whole country in more detail. You can find out how to help us and Opensignal by visiting our mobile coverage map.

Are you frustrated by bad signal on your mobile? Do you have to hang out of a window just to get good coverage? Tell us about your signal woes.


I have a spare phone on a different network when I am out in the country. Lack of mobile broadband signal is even more frustrating.

For years it has been possible to make an emergency call on a mobile even if there is no signal on your own network. This is possible because the call is routed via another network. I would like to see networks shared in this way for non-emergency calls, which would be a great help to the consumer.


Assuming that the chief purpose of using a mobile telephone is to be able to make and receive calls when you’re out and about, having a good signal at home is only half the story. Even having a landline at home does not overcome all the mobile signal outage or deficiency problems because some callers might only have the mobile number on which to contact you. At our previous house we had a poor signal in parts of the house and it got worse the closer we got to the nearby water tower that was bristling with transmitters [I expect there is a plausible scientific explanation for that]. We have subsequently suffered prolonged outages at our new house. Each of us is with a different mobile phone network and we have not given up the landlines, so belt and braces all in place. But when out and about in the car or on the train in East Anglia we often encounter a signal problem at some stage, even in inhabited areas. Looking at the coverage map, it would seem that, cotrary to what you might supose for sparsely populated areas, the Norfolk & Suffolk Broads have much better signal coverage than the rest of those counties!

I agree with Wavechange on transferability of connection. All significant settlements seem to have multiple network coverage, the remainder of the countryside has almost nothing so there needs to be a way of making sure there is some form of overlap and alternative signal route to fill in the empty spaces on the coverage map. There is one very large tract of countryside near us that is practically devoid of all coverage yet it contains several villages each with just one little transmitter covering a tiny spot and many villages with nothing at all.

Being on PAYG I haven’t looked into this, but I should be interested to know whether there is a cooling-off period after signing a mobile phone contract such that if you find when you get home that there is no signal or a very weak one on that network you can cancel the contract. The interactive coverage map just published by Which? should help a lot and it ought to be a network licence condition that any customer in a mobile phone shop has the right to view it Looking at it on-line before even entering a shop would make network selection less fraught, but other factors might still affect the decision – like tariff preference, commonality of network between callers, and previous network experience [especially in the light of the fixed-price-contracts price hike fiasco].


Bundles should be banned. Networks should be forced to charge only on a consumption basis (e.g. 1p/MB, 2p/text etc), either on a postpaid or prepaid basis, so that they receive revenue only when and where they actually provide the service. Three UK already does this on prepaid and such consumption-only charging is common in some other countries.

Bundles serve only to charge consumers for usage that they don’t use, because most bundles are not fully utilised. If you go over the allowance of your monthly bundle, you are often charged at a much higher rate than pro-rata. Even without bundles, networks could still give volume discounts but would be prevented for charging for usage that wasn’t used. Imagine if we had to buy energy in bundles; it would be absurd, so why do we tolerate it with mobile phones?


Tesco, who use 02,claim 99% coverage and include the coverage map checker so you can see what 2G, 3G and 4G is like in your area – inside and outside. They also offer as 14 day (contract) or 28 day (payg) returns policy if the phone is undamaged – presumably this would cover you if lack of signal is contrary to what the map shows? I’m not sure what more they could do.
The option of using all networks when your own lacks coverage is, in effect, asking for a single network provider that all use. Or allowing you to choose provider at any one time depending where you are – bit like when you go abroad. Why does this not happen?
If we only had one national provider we would then complain about lack of competition (and innovation) of course.


Malcolm – What I had in mind is that if a network does not provide coverage the call is routed via another network that does.

If a customer withdraws money from a ‘free’ ATM, they don’t need to go to one operated by their own bank. From the customers’ point of view this works very well and the banks deserve praise for giving us a service that is very useful. Perhaps banks reimburse each other where customers use an ATM managed by another bank, but as a customer, I don’t need to know. As a mobile phone and mobile broadband user, I want a connection and I don’t care how it happens. It is to the benefit of all consumers for the networks to work together. We know that it is technically possible because networks have been shared for emergency calls for the past five years.


Wavechange, I agree with sharing providers under these conditions – perhaps it wasn’t clear when I said “Why does this not happen?”. Revenue sharing would need to be set up (just like the old railway clearing house system). Quite how you would choose the local provider if your own network had no signal I don’t know – presumably from a list of available networks.
This is where the conversations fall down – unless one of the contributors has expert knowledge these questions don’t get answered. We need Which? to help by asking network providers, or other informed sources to contribute.


I share your disappointment, Malcolm. We certainly need expert input and more feedback on comments posted on Which? Conversation. I suspect that some of our previous regular contributors have stopped posting because we don’t have enough input from those can offer an informed opinion.


Rory Boland – Rory, I have some time ago and more recently emailed Which? about the purpose of these conversations if “experts” are not invited to respond to points raised (this includes Which? of course). Otherwise they can lack usefulness when they should be informative for readers. I have received no replies.