back to article UK mobile coverage is BETTER than EVER, networks tell Ofcom

All of Blighty's mobile phone networks are providing great coverage and you can make a successful voice call nearly 100 per cent of the time. And the source of this wonderful news? Why, it's … er, the mobile phone networks themselves. Oh. The latest report (PDF) from telecoms regulator Ofcom shows that all the mobile phone …

The truth of the situation is significantly different to this bizarre "survey". The Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) make extensive use of user and call classification to determine how likely you are to get service. The more you pay each month, the higher up the priority list you are. The MNOs claim that they do not do this, but it's very interesting to compare the quality (and reliability) of service for someone on an old "Orange" account against a much higher-priced 4G "EE" user.

It's an easy test to do - get two identical telephones (we most recently used two Samsung Galaxy S3s for this experiment), one on 3G "Orange" at £17 per month and the other on 4G "EE" at £48 per month. The "Orange" phone struggled to obtain even voice and text connections in most areas (we tested in both cities and rural areas). We swapped the SIMs between phones to eliminate the possibility of a defective handset. The "EE" phone had (mostly) flawless service....

When EE were questioned about this, they persisted - right up to board level - in claiming that they did not do this. However, the evidence is damning. This same experiment has been widely carried out with other pairs of handsets and on other accounts. In all cases the quality of service is invariably proportional to monthly charge. This is (of course) contrary to the terms of their licence, but getting OFCOM to actually do any work is impossible, so they're getting away with this.

A final proof was to do a little hacking of the SIM and of the phone firmware to (effectively) fool the networks by spoofing the mobile equivalent of the "user agent" - it's possible to get truly flawless service with a 3G-only phone on EE, but only by making what are probably illegal changes to the way the handset operates.....

EE know exactly who I am, and I'd welcome the time in court to defend my "libel", but they won't do it, so my friends and I will continue to use hacked handsets and get premium serice at a budget price.

Interestingly, O2 and Vodafone have similar user classification (if you're on "Tesco Mobile", you're SOL) but the differences are a bit less striking.....

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Anonymous Coward

Whist I fully agree with the 'wonkyness' of root metrics and the Ofcom report I'm calling you out on your absolute total BS. Mainly due to a lack of understanding how the technology works. It's true that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

I agree with EE that your comments are libellous. I used to work for an independent company which tests Tetra, 2G, 3G & 4G networks in the UK and in many other countries too. I can safely state your comments are absolute tosh.

It's worth knowing that an independent company are paid to perform over 30,000 test calls per month on the 'EE' network alone using custom build hardware that's in use on over 50 mobile networks worldwide. The raw data simply does not back up your statements.

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Interesting you should say this, as I have long suspected it on my Tesco account - generally crap coverage when you try to use it even in a modest sized Scottish city, even when signal strength is apparently decent.

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Anonymous Coward

That's because there are actually different types of MVNo, some have a bit of infrastructure of their own which can go tits up independently of the 'home network', whilst others rely on a complete outsourcing model.

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From my limited experience, I absolutely agree .

My work iPhone 5 on Orange has abysmal signal in the majority of places. Drop in my personal EE sim and magically I get substantially better signal both in terms of voice and data.

My wife is on Virgin Mobile with ok signal but then in goes a new payg EE sim and signal improves as if I had stood close to a cell tower.

I moved to EE from O2 who were a lot worse in my experience, on O2 I had minimal data and terrible voice (quality and failing calls) and also the dreaded 'no signal' even in London. Moved to EE and the signal is signifcantly better.

I'm not entirely sure where Rootmetrics test phones travelled to but I'd suggest that they missed the majority of the countryside areas - the Derbyshire dales, the lakes, Surrey hills, South Downs national park to name a few. Maybe they consider heathrow as rural these days?

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Anonymous Coward

ORANGE V EE

I can only agree with you. I'm one of those who has not upgraded, using 3G to connect on the internet is a painful and slow experience using an iPhone 5S. It will only connect 60% of the time.

Also I have been getting an increasing number of failed calls for instance in Sussex last week I was unable to make a phone call for three hours during the day because of 'call failures'.

I also get quite a few messages through telling me I have had a missed call, yet the phone next to me has never rang of indicated someone had tried to phone.

Yet using a 3 mobile card in my iPad mini I get far faster and more reliable connections even though both phones show full signal strength.

Using Orange feels like going back to old dial up internet. Personally I think Orange have nobbled the system in the hope people upgrade.

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Anonymous Coward

We know for sure that there are teirs...

...it's built in to the system, so that first responders such as firefighters, paramedics, and police get first dibs on cellular service in an emergency, or indeed, exclusive use is needed, so it's hardly a stretch to believe that the operators would have the capability to depriotitise traffic they consider of less worth, and of course it's also in their interests to make sure that their higher paying customers stay happy.

Whether it's the right thing to do, especially when denying it, is another matter of course.

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Stop

Actually you are right to a degree, but found there is no need to go to this extreme.

Simply disconnect mobile data and hey presto those voice calls work much better.

It's often caused by the phone desperately trying to use 3g, even when the signal is congested (bars make no difference)

We can see this in action in out office all the time. in the day, it flaps between edge and 3g and 2g.

At night, same office, rock solid (and fast-ish) 3g.

So you may get the "signal", but using it is a waste of time.

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A bit of transparency would be good...

... surely the carriers / MVNOs could be forced to be a bit more open about what the agreements are - the consumers should know what they are getting - do they sit in a 'tier' on the network and what tier it is. Then the consumer can make the decision as to whether we want to pay to be in 'higher' tiers - be it PAYG or contract, home carrier or MVNO.

There are clearly people stating tiers don't exist, but all I can say from my own personal experience with O2 PAYG (my usage being light data - browsing, etc.) - in the same locations: O2 was OK, giffgaff was consistently poor (almost unusable) and Tesco has been OK as well. Others will no doubt say the opposite, but the networks should tell us what is going on.

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Ask yourself whose comments are more plausible. Someone who is prepared to go to court to defend his libel or an anonymous coward?

Oh the AC, of course!

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Grab the tinfoil hats!

There is cetainly provision in the GSM standards for levels of service, but this is only used by EE to differentiate between the public and the emergency services.

Any differences you see between the phones are probably (i) subjective, (ii) due to config differences betwen the SIMs/accounts, i.e. different APNs, (iii) due to the size of test subjects, i.e. 2 handsets and 2 sims do not scientific testing make. (iv) due to some other technical reason, i.e. taking a differnent route through the EE core network.

I will agree though that subjectively, the EE network has progressively got worse over the last 5 years (both data and voice).

Finally, I think it's more likely that EE won't go to to court with you because they simply can't be bothered.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Grab the tinfoil hats!

All true apart from the first sentence, EE don't differentiate between the public and the emergency services because the UK Emergency Services use their own TETRA network not 3G or LTE.

The replacement for TETRA will most likely be based on LTE and will definitely have tiered SLA requirements.

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Anonymous Coward

@mudslinger, Normally I don't reply to trolls, but today I'll make an exception, the AC was because I still work in the telecoms RA industry as a freelance consultant and wish to continue working.

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Re: Grab the tinfoil hats!

Hmm, it definitely was true a few years ago, and possibly still is, i.e. as a belt and braces DR for Tetra going titsup.

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"Ask yourself whose comments are more plausible. Someone who is prepared to go to court to defend his libel or an anonymous coward?"

Going to court to defend yourself against libel proves you think you're right. Only if you win in court does it prove you were right (or at least proves that your lawyers were able to make a better argument than theirs).

There's a difference.

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Anonymous Coward

It's worth knowing that an independent company are paid to perform over 30,000 test calls per month on the 'EE' network alone using custom build hardware that's in use on over 50 mobile networks worldwide. The raw data simply does not back up your statements.

Sadly, you're entirely wrong. I'm posting anonymously because I work for a company responsible for testing the mobile networks. The correlation between monthly charge and quality of service described earlier in the thread is absolute and accurate. There is a deliberate effort to try to "up-sell" contract terms by crippling cheaper service. All the networks do this, though EE are by far the worst.

Just like the railways are not compelled to transport you - even though you've bought a ticket - the MNOs contract terms are so convoluted and arcane that not even a Contract Lawyer can make sense of them, but the ultimate outcome is that they're not compelled to provide any service at all, even though you've paid for it! (Cross a Lawyer with the Godfather and he'll make you an offer you can't understand!).

The long and short of it is that the MNOs are laws unto themselves, and they're getting away with ripping off the majority of their customers. Their "hire purchase" agreements for handsets are usurious, their coverage is frequently deliberately crippled for most users, and they won't ever admit that they're in the wrong.

The whole thing stinks

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Anonymous Coward

good coverage Pah!

on Orange at my mothers in Crawley (town of around 100,000) I get 1 bar if lucky.

On Voda at the same location with the same phone I get 4 bars but most times trying to make a call I get 'network busy'. This is a housing estate, not the centre of town (mind you that is looking like a ghost town these days)

On Three, there is no signal on the train between Sandhurst and Wokingham. Not exactly out in the sticks or a piss poor area. There again, I get 4bars 4G from them at home but that is not the point really.

Can the networks please sort out their existing coverage. 1 bar is not good enough in a large town.

I do think that the networks are engaging in some throttling of connections from the likes of Tesco and othe MNVo's simple becuse they don't bring in the same level of revenue as their full price customers. They'll never admit it though.

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Re: good coverage Pah!

"Can the networks please sort out their existing coverage. 1 bar is not good enough in a large town."

And you think they will?

OFCOM seems content to regulate on the basis of network owners insisting that they offer a circa 98% success rate, when from the article quotes user experience of intermittent service (that I suspect we can all attest to) and dissatisfaction levels that in my view are unduly high - although that depends how easily pleased you are with around one in five users dissatisfied.

The problem is that the physical network owner/operators have a nice slice of the pie each, the cost of infrastructure represents a huge barrier to entry, and with no effective competition or regulation the service they can just sit on the behinds and laugh at their customers. MVNOs create a veneer of competition, but as that's just a reseller arrangement it offers no incentive to the network owners to improve their offer.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: good coverage Pah!

I'm not sure its always been like this, but these days I wouldn't go near an MVNO with a barge pole. My girlfriend had a Virgin SIM (pretty good years ago) for a couple of years; the signal was usually pretty lacklustre to start with, but anywhere near lunch time or rush hour in London and the chances of making or receiving a call were as close to zero as makes no difference, with 'network busy' or three rising tones if you were dialing out, an endless ring tone that never cut through to voicemail if you were calling her phone. Data was never, ever good; if we were together when I was on T-Mobile, I got decent data rates and she got close to nothing - 10 percent of mine at best. And those were supposedly the same network.

We're both now on Three (Voda for overseas) and generally get excellent coverage for voice and brilliant data speeds as long as we're in London, which is most of the time.

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bollocks

I can only make and receive calls on o2 in the office. No other networks work.

My flat is a black hole. No networks work at all. 1 bar if I'm lucky, intermittently.

I switched to 3 from T-Mobile thinking 4g was coming. So is winter.

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Stop

Hope not.

"testing them across a range of services (voice, text, data), in different use cases (indoor, outdoor and while driving"

I certainly hope that it should have been whilst in a car.

Using a mobile whilst driving is illegal.

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Re: Hope not.

Using a mobile which is not attached to the dashboard with a hands free kit is illegal whilst operating a car. If you are using a handsfree kit it is legal - and with voice commands you can send texts and do data tests as well.

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Re: Hope not.

Actually Not true. Even hands-free you can still be done for due care and attention if you are being distracted by the call..

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Anonymous Coward

They're on another planet

If you haven't been out of London for a while, it would be easy to believe coverage is good; in my experience its rare to find a spot indoors or out where the signal is poor or non-existent. Take a trip outside the M25 and its a different kettle of fish altogether. Even largish towns which I would have thought would have been easy wins are peppered with holes, and heading into the countryside - even the well populated south east - and a decent signal seems the exception rather than the rule. A look at most coverage maps based on actual use shows good coverage near roads and thats about it, but that might well be down to testing method.

Ofcom is pathetically fond of asking questions that appear guaranteed to provide answers that show it doing a good job, at which point it pats itself on the back. The only thing that seems to change that is someone else independently producing facts and sharing them loudly and publicly, which occasionally shames Ofcom into into a bit of Doing The Right Thing, albeit the 'lite' version.

Real world data coverage, particularly 3G/4G, makes voice coverage look positively stellar, so it'll be interesting to see if the forthcoming report is as much self-serving whitewash as this one.

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Independent Survey?

Given the general theme of the comments in this thread, particularly the first comment from AlbertH and the AC who responded, it seems to me that no sensible mobile user trusts Ofcom, the Networks or RootMetrics for accurate stats.

Would The Register be able to step up and conduct their own research with other independent groups?

Granted, it's unlikely that such research would carry some weight with Ofcom, but a man can dream.

Colin

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Re: Independent Survey?

An Independent Reg survey?

Sounds like a plan. Actually one we already have well underway. Watch this space.

As a mark of comparison while Ofcom reports 98.9% Call completion rates, fixed lines are touted as offering "five nines" availability, that is 99.999%

Simon

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Maybe not untrue

The story is that mobile coverage is better than ever. That may be true, but what many of us complain about, though, is that it's still not good enough.

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Anonymous Coward

not been any improvement in my village since we finally got some mobile coverage about 10 years ago. We can still only get Orange\EE and ONLY GPRS no 3G not even Edge its that bad!

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HD voice

You called EE out for their HD voice service, but a quick Google suggests Three and Vodafone both offer this as well.

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Am I the only one who's getting a decent service then?

Reading the comments here I'm starting to wonder. I don't live in London, or in a major town, though I'm not really out in the sticks either, and I travel around a fair bit. I'm on PAYG so if the conspiracy theories are true I should be getting a shit service. However my experience over the last two years is that I've found exactly one "no signal" area (at Watford Gap services, and not a black hole any more). The only time my service deteriorates is when I'm at an event with 20-30000 other people in a relatively small area, ie large motorsport event, where I'd expect congestion to be a problem.

Maybe I'm just lucky.

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confused by ...

“99 per cent of mobile phone owners still use their handset to make mobile phone calls”.

Assuming that other 1% refers to cellular-capable tablets, what else *would* you use to make mobile calls except your handset?

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Re: confused by ...

The meaning is simple, only 1 in 100 does not make mobile calls even though they have a device that allows them to do so. These may be people using only SIP/VoIP.

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> "RootMetrics tries to make calls in areas where there is no coverage"

In other news, man dies while trying to breathe underwater.

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Anyone See The Picture the BBC Used For This Story???

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28758595

Do we think those people are trying to get signal? Or videoing the burning city below?

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Stop

An obvious problem

If OFCOM are accepting the networks 'disconnected mid call' statistics rather than 'unable to call' there's a heavy incentive for the networks to only connect the calls that they're almost certain will complete and basically ignore any new call attempts when the network is reasonably busy, which anecdotally is pretty much what I've been noticing.

BTW, if anyone fancies a break with no distracting internet or phone calls, I can recommend Sandy Bay holiday park in Devon, it's actually quite liberating after you resign yourself to being off the grid.

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Based on my own experience and observations, I have a suspicion that coverage maps are based on old data, though maybe current with transmitter locations, but the networks haven't noticed that trees don't need planning permission to grow.

Dead spots have appeared in places where trees are generally taller than they were a decade ago

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Anonymous Coward

"I have a suspicion that coverage maps are based on old data"

With a good measure of wishful thinking thrown in I think. The coverage map for the area my sisters house in Kent shows unbroken outdoor coverage for my network, with some patchy indoor coverage. The reality is I've never once had a signal within a 3 mile radius.

The networks have long been accused of using out of date maps, which if true would be more of a problem in the case of Tmobile/Orange. Since they merged to form EE, they've been weeding out "duplication" of masts, which according to residents in some of the areas affected, wasn't duplication at all as masts weren't necessarily on top of each other and changes fail to account for terrain blocking signals. If EE maps are still pimping the same coverage without accounting for the lost masts, they're being disingenuous at best.

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Anonymous Coward

how it works

The EE coverage maps are based on predicted coverage data from network planning tools, i.e. the tools that the network engineers use to plan the network. The predicted coverage is of course only an estimate (based on propogation algorithms) using simple clutter data, i.e. indicating rural/urban/water/terrain height etc It does not go down to individual building/tree level. This data for 2g, 3g and 4g for both Tmobile & Orange is then brought together.

The important thing to consider at this point, is that marketing choose the signal level which they think maps to good/bad/none for both outside and inside coverage. Their opinion may differ to the engineers ;)

Typically this data is refreshed weekly, although operational issues might mean a longer period between updates.

A massive programme of site reduction was carried out by EE leading to some locations losing coverage, but that's always been the case (i.e. some site leases cannot be renewed, or cheaper sites become available, or config changes are made thus making some sites redundant). Additionally some sites might have been removed as a site lease ended, knowing that a 4g site will be replacing it at some point in the future. The outcome of this constant shuffling of sites, is that some people win and some people lose.

I think the real problem in this debate, is that peoples expectations are 100% coverage, 100% of the time. It's just not possible unless people are willing to pay significantly more to support the massive increase in infrastructure which is required to support it.

Finally, I suggest you take AlbertH's 'evidence' with a pinch of salt, the few people on here telling him he's wrong seem to work in the mobile industry. AlbertH comes across as a serial fantasist (see some of his other posts, I don't know how he manages to find time to post here considering he's making thousands of pounds suing various people).

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