Revolutionary Measures

The end to rural notspots?

Amidst all the hype about the rollout of 4G and the excitement around fibre optic deployments (note to BT – I’m still waiting, and you said I’d have it in June), the UK has a hidden issue when it comes to communications. Too many rural areas still don’t have a decent, basic mobile phone signal.

Cwm Rheidol Telephone Kiosk - geograph.org.uk ...

In my village, in the middle of Suffolk, only one provider has any reception – and that is just 2G, not even 3G. When the local mast went down for a month last year it paralysed rural businesses, as well as impacting on the lives of local residents. And this is not the Outer Hebrides – I’m less than an hour from Cambridge and Norwich, and 20 minutes from several major towns.

Given my experiences, the news that the Government is considering forcing mobile phone operators to share their networks (so called national roaming), to widen choice, looks like a positive move. Putting aside the fact that the starting point for the new rules was apparently David Cameron being unable to get a signal while on holiday in Norfolk, it should benefit anyone living in the countryside. It will help stem the growing gulf between rural communication ‘have nots’ and urban dwellers with 4G and superfast broadband. A similar system operates in the US, which has a lot more challenging terrain than over here.

Obviously the mobile phone operators are crying foul, pointing out that they have spent heavily on masts in rural areas, and being forced to share their infrastructure will jeopardise future investment. Frankly, I just don’t buy this. Everywhere else they have competition and somehow survive – after all, most people pick a network operator on price/what you get for your money, rather than “do I actually get a signal?” At the moment they have captive markets that they have carved up amongst themselves, forcing people to choose by postcode, not package. Sharing infrastructure makes it more cost-effective and opens up new markets. Additionally the government has promised £150m to improve areas where there is no coverage at all.

The government claims it has big plans to turn the UK into a skills-based, technologically literate society. Entrepreneurship is being encouraged (albeit focused heavily on the media-centric Silicon Roundabout), coding is being re-introduced into schools and infrastructure projects promise faster links between major cities. So far rural areas have been left behind – with high speed broadband projects running late and a lack of skilled jobs hitting local economies. It is time for the government to address these issues or risk creating a two speed economy that deprives those of us in the countryside of the same opportunities open to the rest of the United Kingdom.

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June 25, 2014 - Posted by | Cambridge, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. This is a great topic Chris and, funny enough, mobile signal has notspots not just in rural areas. Try having a conversation either on Three or Vodafone on the train on the way to London and you’ll realise how fragmented the signal is. The line is easily dropping every 5-10 minutes, with total no signal for 1-2 minutes at a time. Years ago I switched to Three as it was impossible to have a conversation from within my house on Vodafone. Here is the main reason: most operators sell bundles of as many minutes as possible to us all. For that reason they are not making more money when we actually use those minutes we already bough so no incentive to make sure there is even and string coverage across the territory. So while they are filing massive profits we are dealing with a coverage that is not better than 15-20 years ago.

    Comment by Massimo Gaetani | June 26, 2014 | Reply

    • Thanks Massimo – yes, definitely not just a rural problem. You are right – unless you are on Pay As You Go, most of us pay the same whether we can use our minutes or not, so no incentive to change

      Comment by Chris Measures | June 26, 2014 | Reply

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