/ Technology

Does a lack of mobile coverage push your buttons?

Screen shot of mobile coverage map

With 3G and 4G the mobile networks are keen to tell us how we can stay connected wherever we go. But that’s not always the case, and finding yourself stuck with a bad phone signal can be deeply frustrating.

I remember being amazed the first time I used a mobile phone to get on the internet. Now, like a lot of people, I take it for granted and think nothing of checking the latest news when I’m out and about, or going online to check out the restaurant I’m on my way to. Becoming so dependent on our phones can mean it is increasingly frustrating if you can’t get coverage from your provider.

We’ve teamed up with mobile coverage experts, OpenSignal to show you how well each of the mobile networks’ 3G and 4G services performs, based on the actual experience of mobile phone users from the data that OpenSignal collect. Three has the best 3G coverage, but is the worst for 4G, while EE had the best 4G coverage and Vodafone users enjoy the fastest 4G speeds.

Coverage mapped out

We also found huge differences in coverage and speeds across the country, with London the place to be for a good signal, and Wales the worst. It’s all part of our work with OpenSignal, helping people to find out what phone coverage is like in their area. Our interactive map shows you which network has the best – and most reliable – signal in your area.

The culture secretary, Sajid Javid, has announced plans to eliminate poor mobile coverage, suggesting that in a fifth of the UK, people can’t use their phones to make a call because of poor signal (4G, 3G and even 2G).

Good news for a bad phone signal?

The Government has published a consultation with proposals for how the industry can improve coverage in these ‘partial not-spots’, from ‘national roaming’ – what happens when you’re abroad when you switch to another network’s signal when yours isn’t available – to forcing the mobile companies to share their masts, or obliging the networks to cover a minimum percentage of the UK.

Do you get frustrated by poor phone signal? Have you ever been stuck at home, at work, or on holiday, unable to make calls or texts, and wondered what you’re paying your monthly bill for? What do you think the solution should be?


My biggest frustration is not problems with calls or texts but frequent difficulty with accessing websites, either on the phone or when tethering.

Sophie Gilbert says:
7 November 2014

Our descendants will wonder why on earth for so long we just accepted (among so many other things) not being able to roam easily and companies not sharing their masts. Why, why, why?


Shareholders will probably tell us that competition is good. 🙁

We already have network sharing for emergency calls, so surely it would help all customers if the same could be done for other calls. The companies could reimburse each other for use of other networks.

It took a while for the railways to agree on a standard gauge for rail track, so don’t expect too much.


Its a pity they chose 4′ 8 1/2″ – Brunel’s 5′ gauge, made a lot of sense for speed and confort. The railways eventually found a way, through a clearing house, of sharing revenue equitably when issuing tickets that covered travel on different companies.

Competition is good – it drives innovation and service, Would you like to go back to the GPO with a 6 month wait for phones, shared lines, operator-connected long distance calls?

By the way, if you have a pension you are almost certainly a shareholder – indirectly; it’s where your income comes from.


Yes, life was simple, but neither efficient nor economical when the GPO ruled the wires [except in Kingston upon Hull which had a more advanced municipal telephone system – and still has an independent system]. When we lived in Enfield Town [now regarded as part of north London] we had to ask the operator to connect us to all numbers, both local and trunk, right up until around 1963 because the telephone instrument had no dial and the exchange was not equipped with a modern mechanical frame. So an amicable battery of well-spoken ladies perched on swivel high-chairs plugged all calls in on a panel. One benefit was their willingness to tell you the time without putting through a charged call to the Speaking Clock; in return they wanted to know what the weather was doing because inside the exchange they could not see out of the windows.

Brunel’s Broad Gauge on the railways [a little before my time] was actually 7’0″ [or 7’0¼” in later years] and in my opinion was far superior to the standardised gauge. If retained, it would have meant that modern carriages would ride much better on the tracks and carry more passengers in more spacious accommodation. But the Great Western Railway’s Broad Gauge had to go, towards the end of the 19th century, because it was an impediment to the long-distance carriage of goods [which had to be transferred between trains at intermediate points]. Luckily though, we have inherited a magnificent legacy in the form of capacious bridges and tunnels which have aided modernisation of the system and, even today, some of the trains running on former Broad Gauge lines are a little wider than standard trains to take advantage of the commodious infrastructure giving passengers a bit more space and comfort..

Back to the topic, it astonishes me that after twenty years of almost universal mobile phone ownership, just a handful of operators, and the investment of tens of billions of pounds, we still have a creaky system that gives patchy coverage, especially in rural areas and that, according to recent posts on another Which? Conversation, EE users have actually suffered a deteriortaion in signal coverage as the former Orange and T Mobile transmitter networks have been
“rationalised”; just as well the company has dropped its previous moniker of “Everything Everywhere”.


Correction – Brunel’s 7′ 0″ gauge. Wish we could edit for fat fingers!


Your comment was on the right track and I understood the point. 🙂

I understand the value of competition but where competition leads to unfair treatment of consumers, something needs to be done. Many of our Conversations are prompted by companies treating us unfairly and occasionally acting illegally.

Taking mobile phones as an example, we have examples of companies being unsympathetic to people who cannot even use their phones in their own homes due to lack of a reliable signal. Most of the networks have been pushing up prices of monthly payments for customers during two year contracts, something we are thankfully not accustomed to in the UK. And so on.

Competition is good but it can turn cancerous. Some companies become greedy, some sportsmen cheat, etc.


Yes and fixed price contracts come with a financial penalty when choosing to opt out where unfair practices are evident, which also stifles competition once locked into.