back to article Yet another Brit mobe tower borg: Three and EE ink network-sharing deal

A new deal between EE and Three will apparently see the two British mobile operators sharing their cellular networks, according to reports. Neither company has an obligation in its licence to provide a certain level of coverage – the only company which does is Telefonica's O2, which is required to provide 98 per cent indoor …

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Anonymous Coward

Did I hear cartel anyone?

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Not necessarily. This is simply a logical progression of consolidation of inefficient assets: vying for mast space usually serves to drive up costs. In any one notional cell there will be only one or two optimum places for towers. Cabinets, power supplies and backhaul will have to be duplicated where shared resources would technically suffice.

The next step, and in reality, this is already happening is to have the equipment manufacturers actually own and operate the sites and rent them out to operators. This is much the same model as is supposed to happen with other utilities: electricity, power, water. The key to preventing cartels is making sure that the operators of the infrastructure do not favour one party. The key to ensuring good coverage is in the terms under which the spectrum is awarded.

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Only if you have been listening to the energy suppliers.

Competition seems to work okay in the mobile market place.

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Well interestingly, Orange's outsourcing agreement with Nokia Siemens Networks seems to be up for renewal this year. Don't know about Three's, but suspect these mast sharing agreements are a precursor to the signing of new outsourcing agreements for the operation and maintenance of their mobile networks.

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Anonymous Coward

Not really - would be a bit like expecting every wired telco or gas company to lay cables / pipes to your house. They may as well share masts especially if it means they all offer better coverage as a result plus reduced costs may mean (hopefully) better service and / or reduce end user cost.

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Anonymous Coward

"plus reduced costs may mean (hopefully) better service and / or reduce end user cost."

ROFLMFAO!!!!!!!!!

A company reducing costs and passing them on to the customer!!!

Are you stoned!

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different frequencies

Where two (or more) operators share the same mast, this does not mean the same coverage footprint, the lower frequencies have greater coverage than the higher frequencies, so it depends on what frequency bands the operators have on their licence.

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Re: different frequencies

Exactly, despite "cornerstone" there is great O2 reception at my house and zero Vodafone, despite running off the same masts visible from the back garden...

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Re: different frequencies

IME that's fairly unusual - I've always found Orange and T Mobile reception moves in tandem (even before mast sharing), and likewise O2 and Vodafone. There's a few individual spots where that doesn't hang true, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: different frequencies

I get rubbish reception at work on O2, my colleague gets great reception on Vodafone, both of us are using an iPhone5. Most of the time he gets 3G, I get Edge. It seems to me the mast must be a Vodafone one and it is giving priority to it's own subscribers.

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Re: different frequencies

Actually at VHF and above they're all line of sight and the operator who gets the highest spot on the tower gets the best coverage.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: different frequencies

O2 has the least amount of masts.

It's difficult to get new ones approved too.

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Stop

only ... two network coverage footprints to choose from

But the footprints will generally, and points above not withstanding, give better coverage. Which can only be a good thing. We still have the benefit of competition on tariff.

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Re: only ... two network coverage footprints to choose from

"But the footprints will generally, and points above not withstanding, give better coverage"

Not by much, because the networks have all avoided areas of low mobile use, so the current situation is not mutually complementary coverage, but rather massively overlapping coverage. All the sharing does is some marginal reduction in operating costs that most certainly won't be passed on to you or I. O2's recent price hike shows their position on keeping costs down for customers.

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The footprint is the same

I wrote the piece and spoke to an engineer on the rollout. I got the assurance that the footprint is the same - athough capacity might not be - if two networks share the sites. Of course with WCDMA the cell breathes with usage so the coverage will be dynamic but radio planning being what it is both networks will come up with the same answers when they do the same sums.

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Devil

Re: The footprint is the same

I would still contend that there will be some improvement simply because the masts are not co-located and will therefore complement each other. For example, and I know Vodafone isn't one of the mergees, but I get suckish EE coverage and fair to good Vodafone coverage in my home.

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QoS doomed and finger pointing

... will become the norm more so than it already is. Whose cell was I logged on to when I got the 56Kbps download using my shiny 4G phone? Whose backhaul was saturated when 12 of us watched that Premiership match in HD?

Helpdesks, performance and coverage are so poor from both operators, that my expectations are low enough for me not to care much about this new agreement. In my neck of the woods at any rate.

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Thank God for O2

Live in Wales and had Vodafone which used to work then they seemed to cull their network so no it barely gets signal anywhere outside a major town. O2 still works in the wild. Worth the money.

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Re: Thank God for O2

Strangely I've found O2 to be singularly awful these days up here in North Wales. EE is doing very well as most T-mobile sites seem to have been 3G and the aggregated coverage seems to work well in this area.

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Re: Thank God for O2

And yet, despite the O2 coverage checker telling me I should get good indoor reception, in reality it's piss poor, with a little yellow No Coverage icon being a familiar visitor to my phone. Pop in a Three sim and everything works perfectly.

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Re: Thank God for O2

You're really lucky - where I live in Wales (5 miles from the border with England) Orange/EE/Whatevertheydecidetheirnameisthisyear gives me 4 bars of 3G signal (forget about 4G), Vodafone give both me and my wife (on our employer provided mobiles) 2 somethimes 3 bars of 3G signal, whereas O2 gives my wife 1 bar of 2G on a good day.

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Boffin

Re: Thank God for O2

Bars are pointless.

In reality, there is no standardized way to determine strength of reception. Full bars could in reality offer barely any better coverage than one bar.

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Re: Thank God for O2

Yes, bars are a non-reliable indicator. The only way to tell signal strength is to download something like root metrics - http://www.rootmetrics.com/uk/app/

that gives you coverage details and signal strength. I'd test with that, submit the data as well, so the relevant operators know it's a little worse. Will it help you? probably not, other than to know what's good/bad, but you can also use their online map to see coverage data for each operator in your area. It's handy

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Coat

"step up to the plate"

Ewww, I'm going to get my dinner all over my feet!

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Mushroom

Ahhh hell, there goes the networks.

EE can't merge themselves, never mind anyone else. I tried to get signal box working from T mobile, but technical support for T mobile is useless, turns out there is separate technical support to EE and for Orange. So three different departments to set up two phones (t mobile and orange) on one signal booster box. (from EE)

1 hour later still doesn't work and back to square one and asking for a PAC code, where a fourth technical team buried somewhere in the mess that is EE, called 'device escalation' appears and voila. 30 seconds and a reboot.

Adding 'three' to that mess is a bad, bad sign.

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West coast mainline

I am still stumped by the fact that huge great stretches of the West Coast Mainline (Europe's busiest railway) have absolutely no reception (not even voice, never mind 3G) between London and Chester.

I'm surprised the overcrowded train operators haven't pushed for continuous coverage. If more people could log in and work as part of their commute they'd be able to travel outside of peak hours, taking the pressure off the (rail) networks.

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Re: West coast mainline

At least some of the trains have wireless.

Unfortunately the quality is almost as patchy as the mobile signal, it can be a rip-off price wise and the routing is so spectacularly weird geo-sensitive websites tend to think you're somewhere in Northern mainland Europe and not the UK a few miles North of London.

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2014?

Can someone tell me what has actually improved for a (speech) phone user since the mid 1990s?

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Gold badge

Re: 2014?

If you've got a landline and broadband, and your friends and relatives all use Skype, then all your calls are pretty much free over and above the monthly subs.

But if you meant mobile usage, or if your friends don't Skype, ... No, I can't think of anything.

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Re: 2014?

You pay much, much less than you used to.

I bought my first phone in 1992/3 - it cost me £170, my contract was £25 a month AND calls cost 50p a minute.

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Re: 2014? Luddite/troll?

Yes - speech is better, and I can now access high speed internet using my 4G phone.

In general, access is improving - to phone/wireless data. People in areas of higher population density benefit first. Some people in our wobbly hilly country who live in high population density areas still haven't got coverage. They will in the end.

Wifi coverage at work is also offering improved access. In the same way, it's not universally immediately available, but it is improving.

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Networking - not...

I have always struggled to understand why there was never a single network provider that had the responsibility to provide good national coverage and the mobile companies paid the network provider through usage charges. That's the way the TV system works and it ensures mostly good coverage.

I guess they're heading the right way with the mast/aerial sharing. As it is, coverage is always quoted as % population and not % area. They are far from the same thing and this will not do much to improve areal coverage.

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Re: Networking - not...

"I have always struggled to understand why there was never a single network provider that had the responsibility to provide good national coverage "

It would cost more. The last 10% in a ubiquitous network tends to cost about the same as the first 90%. That single provider would need to make some kind of return, even if they work on a utility basis, to be able to pay back whoever lent them the money to build it.

That leaves you with a more expensive network, and an additional party who needs to make a profit, being paid for from the same pool of users. Vertical integration only requires one profit.

All that boils down, I guess, to a fairly simple question - along the lines of; Does every mobile phone user want to pay an extra £5 a month to provide coverage where no-one lives, works or plays? The answer is likely to be "no".

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Roaming

It does seem bizarre that there's very little roaming or similar arrangement - 3 used T-mobile and Orange to plug some regional gaps, but that seems to be about it.

On remote islands etc, if it doesn't quite make sense for any one company to put in their own cell, why not split the cost: one installs a cell, the others split the cost and get roaming access in exchange? In effect I suppose this comes close: 3+EE or Voda+O2 will now be splitting the cost of a site, so it will be easier for both pairings to cover more marginal areas.

One or two niche SIM vendors do cross-network roaming, I know - Manx Telecom perhaps? That way, even out of range of one you can still use another; a bit pricey, but for people spending time in remote areas and really needing communications (rural GPs etc?) it's worthwhile: up here in Scotland I've noticed you can often get one network but not another, so roaming would still work fine but no single network would.

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FAIL

Hopefully this will help my coverage.

I get patchy EE coverage in my part of Kent, mostly in the high streets of my local towns. Luckily it works at Home and Work, although, my local mast has a habit of going offline when there is severe weather.

Also, there is no 4G coverage where I live or work, yet EE still call me up to try and sell me a 4G CONtract.

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Vodafone

" Ofcom argues that this has been effective with the mobile network operators all having announced intentions to exceed the targets set and cites Vodafone's statement last week: “We remain committed to delivering 98% population coverage across 2G, 3G and 4G by 2015.” "

Vodafone's statement came after it narrowly avoided a fine for failing to meet OFCOM's target of 90% 3G coverage by June 2013...

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Anonymous Coward

Perhaps all of the infrastructure should be owned by the country and then we'd have decent coverage.

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hahahahaha.

You're kidding, right?

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Anonymous Coward

British Telecom was nationally owned when the lines first went in, and BT now reap the benefits..

I would agree that a national infrastructure owner would be better, and then sell access on their network to the providers..

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Anonymous Coward

"British Telecom was nationally owned when the lines first went in, and BT now reap the benefits.."

British Telecom had an obsolete, creaking, labour intensive network with potential new customers taking their place at the bottom of a queue where they could remain for years. That was largely due to government spending restrictions that meant capital couldn't be invested despite the service being profitable.

Privatisation enabled BT to raise funds on the open market which it used to replace analogue exchanges and install more lines, a process that took twenty years.

Government generally doesn't do infrastructure roll-outs well. It only really works in two scenarios - nationalising failed private providers (as originally happened with telephones 100 years ago) or subsidising private providers to provide infrastructure in situations where there's no commercial case to do so (as is happening with broadband now).

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FAIL

Just let us have UK roaming

And they would not have to have these kind of deals

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Cornerstone - aka Beacon

Few things to clear up here.

First, the O2 & Voda sharing deal is called Beacon.

Second, it's under way but is far from complete. The plan is for it to be complete by the end of 2015, so coverage isn't going to be perfect immediately but it is improving. The trick to knowing if your area is done its to see if there's 4G in the area - if there is, then mast sharing is under way.

Thirdly, all the networks use estimated coverage for their checkers, based on predicted coverage. Short of physically sending a radio mapping car to every location in the UK (something O2 is planning to do), there's no effective way to make sure there isn't a giant Faraday Cage blocking the signal (I.e. A Norman Foster glass-and-steel edifice).

Mobile networks are shockingly complex when you get into it, and it's just a blessing that the operators are upgrading the 25 year old equipment that's been limping on for so long...

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