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Vodafonica’s Cornerstone missing its UK coverage target, says report

If only it was all share and share alike for O2 and Vodafone

The “Vodafonica” project Cornerstone, which aimed to combine the O2 and Vodafone network infrastructure, will fail to meet its self-set target of 98 per cent UK population coverage this year.

When the deal was announced in 2012, it was seen as the route to both better coverage and cost savings. While O2 and Vodafone use separate spectrum, a lot of the physical infrastructure of the 18,000 towers and masts would site share.

However, a report in trade title Mobile News said that only 63 per cent of homes have indoor mobile coverage.

EE and Three also have a site sharing agreements but as Three is expected to merge with O2 that would almost certainly lead to all the networks having interconnected agreements.

Some projects, such as EE’s experiment in Cumbria are not included in site sharing, but Vodafone’s project with JCDecaux to put cell sites into bus stops definitely is.

The Mobile News findings tally with research from signal survey company GWS, who claimed “home is where the signal isn’t”, when it measured the signals in people’s dwellings and found all of the big four UK operators are having problems extending their 4G/LTE networks into UK pads.

In a recent GWS London survey – which included your faithful correspondent’s house – 3 had GWS covered with its 4G network for 78 per cent of the time it spent testing outside properties, but only 55 per cent of the time inside. GWS was on 4G with EE almost 100 per cent of the time when testing outdoors, but only 85 per cent when testing indoors.

O2 achieved the best in-home 4G penetration; GWS was on 4G with O2 for 90 per cent of the time it spent testing inside Londoners’ homes. Vodafone was the next best performer when it came to in-home 4G access; GWS was on 4G with Vodafone for 87 per cent of the time it spent testing inside properties.

GWS’s research suggests that the difficulties operators are experiencing (when it comes to extending 4G networks into dwellings) are having a knock-on effect on the in-home mobile data speeds. The areas in peoples’ houses with the worst coverage being the kitchen.

Under the terms of the 4G licence agreements only O2 has a mandated target: 98 per cent of the UK population by 2017, but it is expected that the other networks will need to match this to compete.

"We are working flat out and investing billions of pounds to provide great outdoor and indoor coverage to 98 per cent of the UK population using our 2G, 3G or 4G services, alongside 90 per cent geographical reach," a Vodafone spokesman told The Register. "Our 4G service already provides around 70 per cent population coverage today."

"However, unlike other major European countries, we are severely hampered by the lack of a nationwide fixed fibre network, particularly covering rural areas, outdated planning laws, and the existing 1980’s Electronic Communications Code (ECC), which all require reform for us to be able to upgrade existing mobile sites, install new ones, and link them together," he added.

"The precise timing of our roll-out targets hugely depend on the necessary Government policy reforms as well as the speed of rollout of BT’s fixed fibre network," the spokesman concluded.

So while the networks are behind on their 2015 target they still expect to meet 2017. One solution is Wi-Fi Calling, which EE has rolled out and Vodafone has announced. ®

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