The “landmark agreement” between the government and the mobile phone operators has been reported as a coup, something worthy, and a step forward. However, scratch the surface and it’s merely a face-saving exercise.
It’s more than a little difficult to work out what the agreement actually says, but we here at the offices of El Reg have been doing our best to make sense of it all.
No-one who understands the technology is allowed to talk to the press and the people in the press office at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport don’t (or won’t) respond to questions without lengthy delays.
The actual agreement has not yet been published.
My concern is that the process has been the airbrushing of a governmental cock-up, and then spinning it as a triumph.
The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said that mobile coverage must be improved and that it was crazy that on a small, densely packed island there was a fifth of the landmass where you couldn’t make a call.
This is entirely sensible and ties in with the independent research by GWS which found that you couldn’t make a call or internet connection 60 per cent of the time on London rail commuter routes, and the research by from P3, which said the worst network they’d seen testing across Europe and Australia would qualify as second-best in the UK.
Where Javid went off-beam was in his proposal for a solution: Network Roaming. You can see why someone who doesn’t understand - and Javid’s background is banking not technology - might reason "If my phone can see a signal, but it's not on my network why can't I use it anyway".
It’s an immediate visceral reaction to the problem of the moment, without any consideration of the logistical and engineering issues which might lead to a solution.
Lots of people who did understand that National Roaming was a very, very bad idea slowly explained why: it would lead to worse handset performance, reduce the incentive for mobile networks to build out, and ultimately lead to more areas where there was no coverage - rather than areas where there was only one network.
This put the government in a pickle. Having stood up and said "something must be done", the only thing that could be the next step was a "landmark agreement".
Now we have exactly that, and without any details all reporters can do is nod and say it's A Good Thing. But what we have, when employing a little knowledge of the background, isn’t promising.