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Ofcom coverage map: 7/10 – must try harder next time

No blackspot spotting tools, or comparative element

Switching networks – but how to decide?

In related work, Ofcom is seeking to improve the process for switching between different mobile providers. Ofcom outlined possible options to achieve this in July and will take this work forward in the coming weeks.

Steve Unger, Ofcom’s CTO, said: “Access to reliable mobile phone coverage used to be a ‘nice to have’. Now it’s essential to many people’s lives. We believe our map is the most comprehensive tool available to consumers and businesses to check mobile coverage. We’re encouraging people to comment after using the map, so we can continue to improve its accuracy.”

"The mobile coverage map is based on coverage predictions from the mobile operators," Ofcom added. "These predictions are generated using computer programmes [sic] that simulate the way mobile signals travel from mobile masts and are blocked by obstructions such as hills, trees and buildings."

"Coverage can also be affected by the device that you are using. Our own measurements of mobile signals in different parts of the UK have shown that the computer models are usually accurate, but can sometimes be wrong,” added the body.

Mobile measurement guru Dr Paul Carter from GWS, which carried out the Register Monopoly survey, told us:

While it is great that Ofcom has developed a map to test coverage level across the UK, the map was in part developed using signal level predictions of mobile coverage provided by the network operators themselves.

We recently spent six weeks testing indoor mobile signal in London and found that within one house you can have one room with full 4G signal, and one without enough signal to maintain a net connection.

So while a coverage checker like this is a good starting point, what’s missing is an emphasis on quality and reliability of voice, text and data signal, as well as comparisons between coverage indoors and outdoors. You may be in an area which says it has coverage, but as soon as you go indoors you lose signal.

Or perhaps you can get signal but service is unreliable. What’s the point in being able to get a signal, if you’re not able to hear the person on the other end of the line?

Further to this, the map does not display what the speed of the connection is going to be. Just having a 4G connection is not enough to guarantee the high-speed data speeds 4G can provide.

Ofcom responded:

“Predicting indoor and in-car coverage is subject to large variations, as signal loss can vary significantly depending on the materials used.

The Ofcom map reflects a typical signal loss for a house or car, but in some cases the signal loss may be greater.

For example, if you are in a basement or in a house with thick stone walls.”

Carter sees the map as helpful, but said: “To make it an accurate and useful tool, Ofcom needs to regularly test networks both indoors and outdoors around the UK, using only data collected in real life, and not a mash-up of testing and computer simulation."

"Only then will we get an accurate representation of the state of the nation’s real network coverage, so we can be sure that a reliable signal is being provided where the networks say it should be.”

The networks have agreed to a government target of extending mobile coverage to 90 per cent of the UK landmass by the last day of 2017 ... but as this is only for outdoor, only for voice and with no guarantee on sound quality, so if the measurement is only with this kind of predictive map it will be hard to see services getting better. ®

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