Crap mobile coverage costs UK biz £30m a week, reckons survey

Workers hunt for bars in the office

Comment Indoor mobile coverage is pants, says ip.access, a company which makes kit to improve indoor coverage.

To quantify just how pants it is the Cambridge-based company commissioned a poll from survey outfit OnePoll. They carried out research in the form of an online survey, and then did some sums to come up with the claim, “UK businesses losing over £30m a week as employees waste time hunting for mobile phone reception in the workplace to take business calls.”

ip.access' business aim is to persuade mobile networks to buy its femtocells to put into businesses to handle mobile traffic.

Femtocells, like Vodafone’s SureSignal, use your broadband as the backhaul and give mobile coverage in places which otherwise don’t have it, such as the middle of a large office building or The Register's London office...

According to ip.access: “UK office workers are collectively spending 2.53 million hours a week searching for better mobile coverage, which comes from 61 per cent of company employees claiming to have poor or variable mobile reception at their place of work. Even 50 per cent of telecoms professionals responded that the mobile signal in their offices was inadequate.”

You would think this is a non-problem: in an office you have a desk phone for voice and Wi-Fi for data. It seems, however, that while people who work in offices are quite happy using the Wi-Fi on their mobile device, they still want to use their mobes for voice.

Gavin Ray, sveep for products & marketing at ip.access, told El Reg: “Within an office a lot of people will remember their short codes for colleagues but a large number will still use their [mobile phone’s] contact list”.

The only way to get a femtocell, aka a “small cell”, is to buy it from an operator. While Vodafone offers SureSignal, you need to be the right kind of business customer to get O2 to sell you a Boostbox, or for EE to sell you a “Signal Box”, and they are not suitable for big businesses. What Ray would like to see is small cells which are bigger than those currently offered by the UK networks and which are “open”.

To use a Vodafone Suresignal your number has to be in the white-list for that unit. In an open scenario anyone on Vodafone could use it. An even better solution would be if anyone on any network could use it, connecting the handset to the femtocell using Vodafone-licensed spectrum but then passing the call on to the right network, a process known as RAN (Radio Access Network) sharing.

Such a solution would work well for places like hotels, which don’t have control over which networks their customers are on, but which have found that poor coverage can lead to people not wanting to stay in the same hotel again.

“Operators should be addressing the issue with a proportionate degree of urgency, and look to technology, such as small cells, to improve the coverage for businesses and their employees who are wasting precious time pursuing mobile signal,” said Ray.

What puzzles Ray is that he knows that operators can see the effect of femtocells in reducing churn and yet they are so loath to use them.

“There is a fundamental issue here for businesses and mobile operators,” said Ray. “While companies across the UK are employing the latest technology to streamline processes and boost revenue, a reliable mobile signal has become a basic necessity, and the lack of one is having a detrimental effect on the productivity and flexibility of companies’ workforces. This surely feeds into missed revenue and growth opportunities.” ®

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