Roaming frustrations

Here’s this week’s article from SMS Text News.

This week Jonathan looks at the old issue of mobile coverage and asks what the networks are doing to improve it.

It’s been a busy week with Nokia’s launch of the new S60 E71 and E66 handsets. However I’m not going to be covering them here as Ben Smith is already doing them justice elsewhere for SMS Text News.

Something that’s been bugging me recently is the question of coverage. I’m increasingly frustrated that we’re not seeing anything dramatic from the networks to tackle the problem of patchy and inadequate coverage. At home, despite living about half a mile from the M25, coverage is flaky and my handset jumps from cell to cell. I can see the signal strength indicator going up and down and switching between 3G and GSM. Having discussed it with my operator they accept that in building coverage is poor here and yes they do have plans to improve it, but not for a couple of years! Great, but that really isn’t good enough! My wife recently stayed at Center Parcs in Wiltshire and was unable to use her handset in most of the village. Standing on one leg on top of the wardrobe improved things marginally but proved less than practical! Even Victoria station in London suffers from poor coverage on some of the platforms.

So what are the networks doing to create a step change in coverage improvement (and I don’t mean installing the odd new cell site here and there)? 3 and T-Mobile, and Vodafone and Orange have announced infrastructure sharing agreements. These are designed to make it easier and cheaper to improve coverage by giving access to each others cell sites, thereby sharing costs and reducing the need for planning applications for new masts. To be fair it’s early days for these agreements but it seems likely that over time this will improve coverage for customers of these networks (not sure what happens to O2 here!).

There’s been a lot written about femotocells which provide localised in building coverage and route the mobile service via a broadband connection back to the operator’s network. This means the call or data traffic does not use the radio portion of the operator’s network. Benefits here are much better in building coverage and freeing up capacity in the radio portion of the network. These devices are currently undergoing test and it remains to be seen whether they will become a viable proposition for regular users, in terms of simplicity and cost.

Something I’d like to see would be roaming agreements between the operators to provide coverage where individual operators have gaps. Currently the only national roaming agreement is between 3 and Orange (previously with O2) where Orange’s GSM coverage fills gaps in 3’s 3G coverage. Maybe this is an area that OFCOM should look at? Whilst I generally don’t favour more regulation, I think 26 years is quite long enough to wait for ubiquitous, or even just better, coverage!

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