A personal view: The signal failure of rural mobiles

John Henderson
John Henderson
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Now Suffolk’s broadband future seems to be assured, is our mobile phone coverage the next battle?

I have been upgrading my phone and getting the worrying impression that rural mobile reception, or rather the lack of it, is going the same way as broadband with an increasing urban-rural divide.

When we were struggling to get anyone to provide broadband at our very rural home, we were increasingly finding websites which were designed on the assumption nobody used dial-up.

The same now seems to be happening with phones. I challenge you to find any online phone review that mentions making or receiving calls. They all talk about the processor speed and how good the screen is, which is academic if you cannot make calls or use the internet because the 3G signal is feeble.

Reviewers and manufacturers now seem to assume universal 3G mobile coverage. That may be the case in countries where phones are made, but not in the UK where we still have large areas where a mobile phone struggles or does not work at all.

So when I told someone in a Bury phone shop that I didn’t want an HTC One phone because our office ones rarely manage to get 3G out of town, I was told that was typical of highly specified phones. The guy said, and it sounds believable, that so much power goes to processors and graphics in them that the transmitter/receiver is neglected.

But where do you need a mobile most? So you can tweet while watching Dr Who at home in town, or when you have a heart attack while walking in Thetford Forest.

Poor rural 3G also means it is rarely a viable alternative to poor rural broadband.

So why have successive governments allowed licences that failed to ensure providers serve a percentage of land area rather than population.?

As with broadband, providers can boast 90 per cent coverage of the population while leaving vast areas unserved. But unlike broadband, poor mobile coverage risks lives.

n Camille Berriman is away