/ Technology

No service: is mobile coverage meeting your expectations?

Most of us are increasingly dependent on our mobile phones – Ofcom has found that 78% of us could not live without our smartphone, but is the signal you’re getting good enough?

We want to have good quality mobile coverage wherever we are, at home, work, outside, or on the move.

While the coverage of 4G mobile networks has increased over the past year, there are still many areas of the UK that experience no coverage, or only have coverage from some (not all) of the mobile network operators.

As you’d expect, it is a particular issue in rural areas and while on the move, but it can also prove to be a problem in some urban areas.

Ofcom plans

Ofcom is looking at measures to improve coverage in those areas that don’t have mobile coverage. However, these measures will only go so far to address the issue. It will be up to the government to decide what further steps should be taken to achieve near-universal mobile coverage across the UK.

When we have a connection, the quality of it is important too, so that we can quickly and easily send messages, stream music and watch videos on the move – this can often become a problem when many users try to use the network at the same time, such as when you’re at a busy train station.

Network congestion

This network congestion means that we can experience slower data speeds, meaning it takes longer to upload Instagram photos or download emails.

We’d like to hear your experiences ahead of Ofcom’s consultations; have you experienced problems when you are using your phone, such as being unable to make calls, send texts or emails, or make use of apps such as Facebook or Instagram?

How did the problem affect you – for example, did it stop you getting in contact with family and friends, or being able to work on the move?

Please do not post your exact address or full postcode when commenting. Thanks.

Mike Kiernan says:
6 December 2018

We live near Ewhurst in a fairly heavily populated part of Surrey. No mobile phone signal at all…let alone 4G !

Montacutian says:
6 December 2018

I obtained sim and phone from BT shop,assured would get at least 3g.I live 4 miles from Yeovil in Somerset.No ‘phone signal indoors and use What’s App whenever possible.Can’t use BT wifi calling as my LG not on list.

Kazee says:
6 December 2018

I’m with 3 & have very little coverage in my flat, as I’m disabled there is no advantage in having a mobile phone. I live in Clarendon Park Area Leicester

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I live in Littledean in Gloucestershire. A review of all the network coverage maps shows my house and much of the village is in a no coverage area and most of the networks admit I live in an area they do not cover “yet”. None have any plans to improve the coverage. What is really annoying is that I can see a cellphone tower on the hill overlooking us. The theory is the the signal is being beamed straight over us. I understand that it should be possible to adjust the beam to provide us with coverage but it appears there are no plans to do anything about the coverage. I have learnt to live without a mobile phone at home – maybe that is not a bad thing.

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I live in Colden Common, a village between Southampton and Winchester. My provider is Plusnet Mobile. My phone is an old Galaxy 2, not 4G capable. My service is generally very good to excellent. Very rarely do I get “service not available”, and only ever for a few minutes.
I don’t stream movies or download anything, and the only “app” I use is a weather forecast. Why would I use a 4.5″ screen phone while I have a 17″ laptop and a 27″ monitor on the home pc?

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Moved to South Wales no O2 coverage at all which I needed for work. Absolute nightmare cost me over £200 to get out of the contract!

We live in Woodmansterne, Banstead, Surrey. No bt coverage at home

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Hi John, was interested to read your comment that you don’t get coverage at home. I work on Which?’s Freedom to Pay campaign and am wondering whether this poor signal also affects your ability to use online banking, or receive payment authorisation text messages? Morgan

We live in the HP3 area of Hemel Hempstead and our signal is very poor. Calls often fade or cut off in the middle of a conversation and data sending or receiving is almost impossible!!

Hi Brian, do you still have problems with your mobile phone signal? I work on Which?’s Freedom to Pay campaign and am wondering whether this poor signal also affects your ability to use online banking, or receive payment authorisation text messages? Morgan

Alison says:
7 December 2018

DL2 Darlington village . No 4G . Poor signal in out house as it is on the edge of a dead zone. Only 1 operator does passible service – but does not do well in other DL postcodes so we can be dead in the water when visiting clients in rural areas. Fibre at exchange in 2015 but 3 years on our box has not been enabled.

Unhappy camper

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7 December 2018

I live in Frant just outside Tunbridge Wells. Extremely patchy connection on my mobile phone. I have to carry the phone up onto the village green to be sure of a connection. My phone is no use for day-to-day activities/services at home..

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HI Maureen, sorry to hear you are having such poor service with your mobile phone signal. I work on Which?’s Freedom to Pay campaign and am wondering whether this poor signal also affects your ability to use online banking, or receive payment authorisation text messages? Morgan

Alison says:
7 December 2018

No or very poor reception with Three mobile at Chesterfield S42

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Alison says:
7 December 2018

It is not just today it is like this 24/7 – 365 days a year! Same on other networks I have tried, could not have a smart meter fitted because of poor or no reception inside, you just about get signal if you go outside, not prepared to do that this time of the year – mobiles can be bad for your health in this case.

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Sue Moles says:
7 December 2018

I live in High Barnet. o2 network but it doesn’t work in the house often. We have to go into the garden for a signal

Hi Sue, is this High Barnet in North London, and you’re unable to get signal in your house. That is really surprising! I work on Which?’s Freedom to Pay campaign and am wondering whether this poor signal also affects your ability to use online banking, or receive payment authorisation text messages? Morgan

Dave Reid says:
7 December 2018

No mobile coverage whatsoever pointless owning my mobile phone, if I need to make or receive a call I have to get in my car and drive about a mile to a hill to try and receive a signal

Steven Helm says:
7 December 2018

I live in a small village call Kirkbymoorside in North Yorkshire and was assured I’d get 4G but 99% of the time I don’t and at home inside I always use my WiFi as it is useless. I am out in the sticks here and I’m very surprised at some other comments and locations not receiving any coverage at all. I shouldn’t really moan to much but it could be lots better. I too live in site of a mobile mast and it most just fly over the top of my house which is ever so slightly down hill from it very frustrating at times

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I refer to Alison’s comment above about mobile phone signal coverage –

It’s as if an angel has come down from heaven and given us the answer to the problem. If the smart meter roll-out cannot be delivered throughout the country because data transmission is so patchy it surely won’t be long before someone – the energy industry, Ofgem, Ofcom, or the government – puts a squib under the phone signal coverage deficiency and gets it sorted. They surely can’t hold up the £11 billion meter monster over some missing masts and transmitters.

John, we’d best not hold our breath while we wait for that.

Last weekend, at a certain house in urban Swindon, I had to key top up codes into my friend’s pre-paid smart meter key pads because, once again, online top ups were not being communicated to the smart display or to its slaved meters. These problems occur regularly, even where there is generally good mobile phone coverage and available bandwidth,

Cary Thornton says:
8 December 2018

We need the Government to invest in new technology – PowFi will enable super fast mobile broadband and voice everywhere in the Country

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Hi Cary, were you referring to “PLC” – Power Line Communications?


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Duncan – thanks for explaining your assumptions, but I was asking Cary…

As I see it, encoding technology is futile in the absence of network coverage.

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Cary – Why do you think it should be the government that should make this investment and not the customers of mobile phone companies through their tariffs?

It would appear that Ofcom intends to make it an obligation under the next round of licences to extend mobile phone signal coverage. To me that seems to be the right approach but, as I have said previously, there are then risks in not attracting high value bids. I am not convinced that direct taxpayer funding is called for in the most remote areas. Apart from anything else the continuing maintenance costs would greatly exceed the financial return from the traffic carried.

The problems in the populated parts of the country are primarily a matter of commercial resolve and not due to technological constraints.

We use Vodaphone but we rarely get more than 2 bars and frequently experience “ no service “ daily and sometimes several times per day.
John PE24

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Duncan – in what sense is any control exercised by the government over BT’s mobile phone services through their EE subsidiary?

As I have commented before, so long as BT is in a monopoly position with landline services it will continue to attract regulatory moderation in respect of those operations. BT understands that and works within that framework. Why should BT escape what other industries have to put up with, especially when most of its telecoms infrastructure was provided at public expense?

I hope we look at things from the point of view of the consumer and not for the protection of corporations. It is well-known that monopolies are bad for the consumer.

Patrick Taylor says:
9 December 2018

I think you must be forgetting the National Grid, and even the current rail efficiencies given by a non-centrally planned system.

Some things like infrastructure cannot and should not be left to private enterprise. Also bear in mind that cartels that operate can be equally bad or worse for the consumer.

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We cannot legislate for misconceptions, Duncan. It cannot be right that whenever a personal service is perceived to be inadequate the government has to fix it at taxpayers’ expense when many taxpayers have no need of such provision.

I was under the impression that Ofcom did impose a minimum service obligation on the holders of operating licences within the territory they cover. The government cannot make any company extend its coverage where it will not repay the cost of doing so – and if there is another network with good coverage in a particular area it makes the economics even worse. I mean, if a city has good coverage from three networks already, how can an additional operator make it pay to install lots of masts?

I have previously said that one way out of the problem is for the government to take over all the networks’ infrastructure and provide universal multi-network transmission throughout the UK. Ofcom has said the operators would not like that as it would take away their unique selling point in many areas or compromise their ability to advertise higher levels of coverage than other networks. So long as there remains a viable landline service to virtually all premises throughout the country – which is the current position – I doubt the government will change its tune.

This overlooks the needs of the business community, however, which increasingly relies commercially – not just socially – on extensive coverage outdoors or while travelling, and not forgetting farmers who frequently are carrying out their business in the remotest locations. For many outdoor people a radio will remain essential.

Companies have to get shareholder approval to make political donations so I suppose they have consent from their owners. I doubt they are funding the Tory Party in the hope of getting a better operating environment for mobile phone services. They probably just think that party is better for business than any of the others – and they are possibly correct. All large political donations have to be publicly accounted for by companies and all donations received have to be declared by political parties to the Electoral Commission.

To flesh it out a bit more
” Companies have to get shareholder approval to make political donations so I suppose they have consent from their owners.”
And the well-paid executives or owners of such companies can give directly.

” To give you an example, it can be expenditure, rather than an explicit donation. There is an exemption for anything that is done on behalf of trade unions, or on trade associations. But if a member of staff is a Local Councillor, and you give them paid time off to attend a Local Council meeting, which you might think is not an unreasonable thing to do, if they’re a member of a political party, which they probably will be, that’s a political donation, technically. Now, it’s unlikely that many companies will actually be sued for that, because it’s fairly minor, but under UK Law, Directors are personally liable for any political expenditure the company incurs, which has not been approved by shareholders. So that, kind of, focuses their mind a little bit, and there is a tendency for those precautionary resolutions to be put through and roughly 50% of FTSE 350 companies put a political donations resolution of some sort through the system and seek shareholder approval. Now they’re not intending, in the vast majority of cases, to give money to the Conservative Party, or the Labour Party, but what they are intending to do is something which may be caught onto that fairly wide definition.

I said earlier on that each country, each democracy has its own way of looking at these things, so we have a model whereby political donations are fairly strictly regulated. However, we regularly in the UK press have issues about Cash for Questions, where a member of Parliament is paid, effectively to raise a question in Parliament and an MP can ask the Prime Minister a question, in Parliament, in public about anything they like and if you’re a company and you wanted an MP to ask a particular question, they’re not supposed to, but there have been examples where newspaper stings have caught them doing that. We also have the issue of Cash for Honours, which is where people, or companies want the Chief Executive to get a Knighthood from the Queen. And we’ve recently had some very interesting newspaper coverage of – as a result of David Cameron having not given political preferment to somebody who’d made a lot of donations, in a private capacity, to the Conservative Party, and has come out with revenge stories and there’s all sorts of unpleasantness in the newspapers about that. So, although there is a model, whereby political donations by companies are quite strictly regulated, actually, there are ways that people try to get around that, which bears out what Churchill said about power. I think it’s also something that applies in many other jurisdictions, many other member states worldwide. So, this is certainly an important issue, and it’s one that’s not at all easy to grapple with.”

Patrick – I had not forgotten about National Grid which is a monopoly bulk transmitter of electricity and distributor of gas. There are clearly risks that the monopoly position can be exploited, and it is my belief that the costs of transmission and distribution are higher than they need to be given the existing infrastructure coverage and the economies of scale. However, I cannot think there is a better way of achieving the efficient supply of consistent commodities like electricity or gas than having one organisation doing it under regulation. I suspect that a state-owned organisation would not do it cheaper or more efficiently; certainly the old Central Electricity Generating Board [CEGB] was not noted for its economy even if it was a fairly progressive form of state enterprise; its customers, the area electricity boards, had very little leverage over the conduct of its affairs or the prices they had to pay for electricity generation or transmission; indeed, it was more cosy than a cartel.

I do not support the distribution of both gas and electricity by same organisation. Although there are obvious administrative synergies and economies I suspect the two commodities are handled separately right up to a very senior position so there is little benefit to consumers from this combination but every opportunity for inappropriate cross-charging to the potential disadvantage of consumers of electricity which has almost universal coverage in comparison with mains gas which is almost exclusively restricted to built-up areas. Whether the UK government could run gas supply any better than a commercial organisation is a moot point; one risk is that it would also charge the gas supply companies too much for distribution and that new inefficiencies would creep into the service.

Patrick – I endorse all that on the opportunities for commercial influence, and at every level of public administration there will be people who seek to exploit those opportunities for personal gain or foil the regulations in order to procure advantage. The difficulty is in eradicating it. Only a free and open press can bring these cases to public attention. Fortunately, outright corruption is not especially widespread but improper influence is and sometimes gets rewarded with a gong.

It would be very difficult to stop company owners or directors making donations to political parties out of their own incomes, and there are some obscene incomes from which a million pound donation would be just pocket money. At least the parties now have to declare these receipts and the connections can be made.

Getting back to mobile phone networks, the government seems to be so disengaged from the issues that I should be surprised if companies would expect to get any benefits from party donations – unless that is what they want: a completely hands-off, leave-it-to-the-market, posture. That is a plausible but not very reliable investment of company profits.

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Vivien Hinks says:
8 December 2018

We live in Dartington, Devon. There is faint, intermittent mobile signal in the house. We have to use the internet for calls.

Hi Vivien, sorry to hear that you don’t get very good signal at home. Sounds frustrating. I work on Which?’s Freedom to Pay campaign and am trying to find out if people with low mobile signal also struggle to use online banking, or receive texts to authorise payments etc. Is that the case for you? Morgan

WA10. See lots of people standing in middle of our avenue to get a signal. We have had very poor and sometimes no signal for years now. We had to purchase a plug-in from O2 which boosts the signal via the internet. Ripoff really when you are already paying a contract – they should make sure you have a signal! It’s 2018! The plug-in works though.

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Duncan – Are you saying that if someone goes to a mobile phone shop, buys a phone, signs a contract with a service provider, takes their phone home and it doesn’t work, they have no consumer rights?

While it might not be a legal requirement to continue to provide a mobile signal at a minimum level, the service providers are under a powerful commercial incentive to do so. The problem we are wrestling with – and Ofcom itself admits that it cannot resolve it – is that unless every populated part of the country has a good signal from all four mobile phone networks the coverage will always be inadequate. It will only become slightly more satisfactory when everyone has a phone that gets a signal in their primary location.

I am not sure that this Conversation has identified any populated places where no signal is available on any of the four networks.

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I would expect people to check with friends and neighbours which network provides the best signal strength and coverage in their area but there could be a conflict with the tariff or the price of the contract leading them to use a less effective provider.

It should not take long to realise that a service is inadequate and cancel the contract within the cooling-off period. If supply and pricing of the device were entirely disconnected from the service tariff, as NFH has frequently advocated here, it would be easier to deal with the issue of service performance [which is covered by the Consumer Rights Act]. I doubt the companies could rely on their terms and conditions in court; they have possibly not been tested and if the service provision of a minuscule amount was deemed adequate under the contract then they should be under an obligation to make that clear in their advertising. All contracts have to be reasonable. As you suggested earlier, consumers are not taking much notice of these finer points and make their choices on different factors.

Duncan – You said previously that it was Vodafone, not Ofcom, who used the word “predication” in the phrase “computer generated predication”.

I don’t know the full context in which the phrase is used by Vodafone but, unless it is a spelling mistake, it does not have the same meaning as “prediction” – although the two concepts are slightly related.

“Predication” is a difficult word to use in a non-grammatical context but it could be used as meaning an “affirmatíon”, so a “computer generated predication” could mean a calculation of the basis on which a proposition is made taking a multitude of factors into account and using a computer to weight and order them in a rational hierarchy. That, if my interpretation is correct, would not necessarily be an inappropriate process. Unfortunately, not knowing the full context it is impossible to assess whether “predication” or “prediction” was the intended meaning since a “computer generated prediction” is just as plausible, although it would not be the basis of a proposition but a competent and definitive forecast based on the relevant factors though likely to be more open to adaptation as the values of critical factors change over time. Only checking the source material will confirm the intended meaning.

Irrespective of the context, as a form of words with whatever meaning it’s a fairly useless piece of terminology so I don’t know why I am pulling it to pieces other than for a little semantic amusement!

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I think that if a mobile phone contract is sold on the explicit basis that there will be coverage at someone’s home – and then there is not, that should be valid grounds for cancelling the contract.

As John has suggested, it doesn’t take very long to find out whether or not a mobile works at a given location. (Also, PAYG SIMs can readily be used for pre-contract trials.)

Unilateral termination of a SIM-only contract is easy – just stop paying; you can be sure you’l be disconnected.

Proper termination requires both parties to acknowledge the flaw in the deal, but can still be easy to obtain.

Sometimes if can take time to establish how reliable coverage is. One place I visit regularly during the summer months varies from day to day. I don’t know if weather is a factor.

I was never in any doubt that Ofcom was referring to percentages of the population rather than area coverage. The problem is that the reports received in this Conversation are scattered so randomly, many in built-up areas, that I question whether anyone really knows the true position of either area coverage or population coverage. The two don’t correlate since the 10% [say] of the population with no coverage probably are scattered over 40+% of the landmass.

There is reference earlier in the Conversation to Norfolk County Council having done a physical survey to test the availability of a signal along roads in the county and that is possibly the only way in which to determine the actual situation. I think it is possible that the mobile service providers are giving out misleading information that does not take sufficient account of topography and obstructions.

Unless I am misunderstanding the issues I think it boils down to this –
a. if you are in a place where you can get a signal you should be able to make a call to any landline number and also to a mobile phone on any network provided the called party is also able to get a signal on their network.
b. if you are in a place where you cannot get a signal then you cannot use your mobile phone to make or receive a call and will have to either relocate or find a landline if the call is essential.
c. you should be able to make an emergency [999] call from any location that has some mobile phone coverage even if on a different network because arrangements have been made to interchange this traffic.

That is not what I would describe as a satisfactory situation after years and billions of pounds of investment and huge receipts from mobile phone contracts.

I think the only answer that would be mostly satisfactory is for compulsory interchange of all traffic at both ends of each call so that you can use a mobile on any network to call another mobile on any other network anywhere where there is any network coverage at all. There are still some isolated ‘not spots’ in well populated parts of the country and there would still be large areas without any coverage on any mobile network except possibly along some major roads and larger villages.

On the question of “prediction” or “predication” I think on balance the intended meaning is “predication” but I agree with you that it is obscure language that would be best avoided. I don’t believe it was a deliberate attempt to mislead because I think it has always been understood that Ofcom refers to population coverage as the benchmark and in terms of mobile telephony that makes sense. Possibly just a case of lazy drafting and poor editing.

This whole business makes me realise what an incredible job the GPO did over the years to make sure that every tiny corner of the country could have access to a telephone service, even if it was only a call box in a village or at a cross roads on a moor. The railways helped, of course by providing the shortest routes for telephone lines to many remote places. Now people are abandoning their landlines and struggling to get a signal on their mobile phones, and, even if they can transmit, the other party might not be able to receive.

Agreed Derek – It is possible that people buying a mobile phone in a network shop do not ask about the coverage over the places they usually call from or to. I don’t know whether those who buy one on-line with a network contract are able to get any such information. As you say, trying out the different networks with SIM cards can avoid the problem of being tied into a bad contract, and people could limit their risks by getting recommendations from friends or family on which network to start with. This would mean just buying a phone without a service provision contract but I don’t see any disadvantage in that as it is always possible to sign up to that in due course. There could be some minor inconvenience until the best coverage is obtained but that will depend on individual areas and the luck of the draw.

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That’s something we are not going to change, then. I would like to see pressure on the companies to introduce network sharing, so that calls etc can use an alternative network if necessary. It seems to work well for calls to the emergency services.

Given that the No.1 purpose of a mobile phone is to be able to make and receive calls when you are outdoors or travelling, some of which might be important for business or personal reasons, it looks like the service providers have lost the plot. They must either voluntarily collaborate or be forced to provide a nationwide service on all networks.

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Could you give us a link to this engineering statement, Duncan? This Conversation is about mobile phone coverage so it could well be relevant. There are other Conversations about broadband capacity and speed to which this statement could also be relevant.

Perhaps this document is so low profile or aimed specifically at technical experts that Which? is not aware of it.

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Jo Gavin says:
9 December 2018

I was with ee until moving to Rhos, Llandysul. No service at all with ee. Changed to Giffgaff, I can now text and sometimes have mobile data, never 4G but can’t make a phone call, emergency only.