CCP calls for action on mobile not-spots

Tuesday, October 6 2009, 15:15 BST

By Andrew Laughlin,

Mobile operators in the UK must do more to support users who experience coverage problems, the Communications Consumer Panel (CCP) has said.

According to a report published today by the advisory group, around a third of consumers and small businesses regularly have problems getting a reliable mobile signal.

The CCP is therefore recommending a new 'try before you buy' get out clause to be inserted into mobile contracts so that consumers can cancel their service if the coverage they receive is deemed unacceptable.

In its research, the organisation found that 56% of consumers and 91% of small businesses experience problems with mobile coverage, with a third citing regular concerns.

Coverage issues are not limited to rural areas, as the survey found similar problems for people living in major urban centres, including London.

Among the most regular complaints are so-called not-spots, which completely lack any coverage, as well as low quality or intermittent call strengths, dropped calls and delayed text messages.

"While all the focus is on rolling out new services like mobile broadband, our research reveals that large numbers of consumers and small businesses are still having problems making even basic voice calls," said CCP chair Anna Bradley.

"This kind of basic coverage is hugely important to consumers and essential for small businesses to thrive. It's essential that consumers aren't trapped into contracts that don't give them the coverage they need.

"The importance of mobile phones will continue to grow, and it will be increasingly vital for consumers and small businesses to have the coverage they expect and need."

In its report, the CCP accepted that the quality of available mobile coverage depends on an individual's distance from a mobile transmitter, along with whether the phone is being used inside or outside. The local landscape and weather can also affect coverage.

However, the organisation believes that there is "scope for coverage to be improved" and welcomed Ofcom's latest consultation into the matter.

The CCP also called on the mobile industry to provide more accurate information to users about the quality of coverage available in their chosen areas. It acknowledged that this guidance is currently an "inexact science", but it is nonetheless important for consumers to make informed choices.

In response to the CCP's findings, mobile operator Orange told BBC News that its network covers 99% of the UK, with 3G service available in 93%.

The company also said that it already offers information to consumers on available coverage, but stressed that no operator can guarantee a continuous mobile signal.

"Local and physical conditions, such as building materials and atmospheric conditions, or environmental obstacles like tunnels, dips, cuttings and wooded areas can interfere with radio signals and impair mobile reception strength for all mobile networks," said the firm.

"As such, no mobile operator can guarantee continuous network coverage, which can be affected by factors outside our control."