back to article UK national mobile roaming: A stupid idea that'll never work

It might be a cunning plan. Culture minister Sajid Javid’s really stupid idea of national roaming seems to have got the mobile phone networks to pull their fingers out about "not spots". The government has tried to fund the filling in of not spots, indeed Javid’s own department stumped up £150m three years ago and has managed …

  1. Stuart 22

    Just popping over to Calais ...

    I suppose one option when we get EU inclusive roaming is to get a French SIM and then be able to roam back at will in the UK without penalty.

    If it works then the UK networks will soon realise their mistake and offer roaming. If not, then I'll know and not have to rely on EE sponsored reports whose only missed metric was the number of kittens domestic roaming would kill.

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: Just popping over to Calais ...

      Only problem is that then you'll count as roaming in the UK. If there was a truely European operator this could be less of an issue.

      1. Tom Wood

        Re: Just popping over to Calais ...

        Yes but the EU have capped roaming fees (at least for voice and SMS) at pretty reasonable rates. It might be worth it. The main disadvantage is that people won't be able to call you cheaply from their own mobiles if you're using a French/Irish/Dutch number.

        1. James 51 Silver badge

          Re: Just popping over to Calais ...

          Yea, but if they using the same operator or you could make calls to anyone in the EU like it was a national call... Will probably happen sooner or later with the single market. One of the nice benefits.

          1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

            Re: Just popping over to Calais ...

            Yea, but if they using the same operator or you could make calls to anyone in the EU like it was a national call

            FWIW my network (E-Plus in Germany) has been offering this since the spring even on PAYG. Surprise, surprise I now use my phone more when I'm abroad.

            Otherwise SIM cards from the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands seem to be the best choice.

          2. Michael Habel Silver badge

            Re: Just popping over to Calais ...

            Yea, but if they using the same operator or you could make calls to anyone in the EU like it was a national call... Will probably happen sooner or later with the single market. One of the nice benefits.

            So why exactly hasn't that already happened yet? With say BSkyB, or with you lot being stingy with the BBC... Nasty shrinking of the Spotbeam on Astra2. If we are a "United States of Europe" it sure as bloody hell doesn't feel like One..

            1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

              Re: Just popping over to Calais ...

              So why exactly hasn't that already happened yet?

              Because the operators fought it tooth and nail. It was the Parliament's and Commission's initial proposal back but the national governments successfully fought for the interests of the industry over those of the consumer. You know how it is…

              It's all change from 2016 assuming the technology can be made to work (routing, billing, emergency services). But we'll still need a business model that will encourage further investment.

        2. jonathanb Silver badge

          Re: Just popping over to Calais ...

          The other part of the deal is that calls to numbers all over Europe will cost the same as a call to another phone in the same country, ie included in the monthly bundled minutes for most people so no marginal cost.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Just popping over to Calais ...

            I'd also like to point out that contrary to the pouting by the operators they can easily share masts/and other equipment, don't need taller ones or easier planning permission. How do I know? Well I'm currently working in another European city where exactly that happens so it muse be possible!

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Just popping over to Calais ...

      get a French SIM and then be able to roam back at will in the UK without penalty.

      The operators have thought of that. On the SIM-only deals I've looked at there's always some small print to the effect of "if you mainly use this abroad we reserve the right to cancel it:".

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Just popping over to Calais ...

        The operators have thought of that. On the SIM-only deals I've looked at there's always some small print to the effect of "if you mainly use this abroad we reserve the right to cancel it:".

        They can cancel any contract for any reason as long as they respect duration and return any positive balance. They generally make money when you roam so there's little incentive for them to stop. I've had an Orange PAYG for nearly ten years here which I use for SMS with the folks. Never had any hint of a cancellation and it only gets around £10 a year.

    3. Peter Mount

      Re: Just popping over to Calais ...

      The ISP I use (A&A) actually have an EU sim - UK number but you can switch it from O2 network to an EU one but with the same UK number. Costs slightly increase for calls but it aparently works well.

      The only reason I'm not using it is that I use data more than calls.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Network operators can already use other operator's masts. I signed agreements 5 years ago allowing a single operator the be the master lessee with options to sub-lease to other operators with additional payment. The master lessee had two of the other networks on the same mast and that saved them money on the rent.

    1. AndyS

      You're talking about each operator sticking their own antenna on an existing mast. The point in contention though is more complex - not sharing the metal thing that holds the antennas, but sharing the antenna, the network, the data links etc.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        So why does he say this "There is a need to add electronic equipment to ours and our competitors' equipment on existing masts. There's no point in building masts when you can use your competitors or existing ones."?

        That sure sounds like not building a new mast and using someone else's!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Possible solutions:

    1. Each mast site should be allowed to be used by all networks.

    2. Nationalise the network and have a National Grid style delivery of telecoms?

    Obviously the real reason for "not spots" is the more rural locations are full of very rich powerful people, NIMBYs from hell.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Generally, you privatise when you want to save Government money and push the cost to the consumer via companies.

      You nationalise when you want to cost Government money in order to provide an standardised service to the consumer. If you want to, genuinely want to, sort out the networks then nationalising the infrastructure would work. But it would cost tax, and you'd still need private industry to handle the rest of the process.

      Much like the government-sponsored rollout of telephone lines, or electricity cables, or gas pipes, or water and sewage, used to cost lots of money but everyone got roughly the same service. And once privatised, you can expect to spend more and get less on new installs (hence we're still putting in basic bare copper on new houses) because it's purely a profit motive to supply service.

      Every time you privatise an industry, you're just selling consumers to a private company who will bicker and fight every time they need to co-operate.

      Every time you nationalise an industry, it's going to cost you a ton of tax to do so and you'll end up with a basic service.

      Personally, I think almost everything should be nationalised again because there's nothing a government can't supply at the same price as these companies are doing so, and put the profits back into education, development, etc. rather than shareholder pockets. But the trend over the last 50 years is to privatise even schools, so I can't see it happening.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Personally, I think almost everything should be nationalised again because there's nothing a government can't supply at the same price as these companies are doing so

        Not sure about that. In any monopoly situation where there is no competition the incentives for efficiency and innovation are removed and political meddling becomes only too easy (no economic penalty for daft decisions) as does the desire for national standards and champions: for every Mini there was also an Austin Allegro or a Triumph Acclaim.

        IMHO the best solutions are often mixed where the government pays for and owns long-term and capital-intensive resources, which might include the cables, mast sites and even masts, but contracts the build and leases the use to private companies. The analogy would be the railways (country owns the track and stations) in any country except the UK: Sweden and Switzerland spring to mind.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Lee D

        "But the trend over the last 50 years is to privatise even schools, so I can't see it happening."

        Well, look at the standard of state schooling. In too many areas it's absolutely atrocious. With some experience of both I'd say that at their best the state schools are easily as good as independent schools, unfortunately that means that the other 95% of state schools are worse for no good reason, despite a near monopoly and "democratic" control by local authorities. The arguments about funding for state schools being worse don't hold water (a) because the state can decide what it wants to pay for education, and (b) the best state schools don't generally get preferential funding over the cr@p ones (if anything the reverse).

        Now look at water. When state managed it was vastly over-manned, drinking water quality was low, and wastewater quality even worse. Investment was routinely curtailed (by the treasury) leading to a collection of ineffective and obsolete assets, even as the government signed up to agressive EU targets on water quality.

        If the state penny pinches on example matters of water and education, why do you think for one moment that it would be competent steward of telecoms infrastructure? Last time it was state controlled it took forever to get a basic fixed line installed, you often had to share a line with neighbours due to under-investment, and you got a crummy bakelite phone that looked like something from the 1940s (because it was). If you passed the mobile infrastructure to government, they'd need to stump up many billions of additonal government debt (unless you know where an equivalent amount of cash is being wasted), and government would be even less inclined to invest in not-spots than the commercial operators. Next year the treasury would be looking to try and reduce the huge public borrowing costs, so investment would be slashed, and prices would go up because that would be income for the Treasury.

        I'm staggered that you could believe that government would be a good steward of any asset. They have proven themselves utterly incompetent in fiscal policy, trade & industrial policy, energy policy, foreign policy, industrial policy, education, welfare, technology policy, and in all aspects of infrastructure planning, and still you think that they will be better than commercial operators at owning and operating anything?

        1. strum Silver badge

          Re: @Lee D

          > Last time it was state controlled it took forever to get a basic fixed line installed, you often had to share a line with neighbours due to under-investment, and you got a crummy bakelite phone that looked like something from the 1940s (because it was).

          I'm getting a bit tired of correcting this crap.

          BT privatisation co-incided with the introduction of System X exchanges. Indeed, the perceived cost of the changeover was the original driver for privatisation.

          BT service was crap because of analogue exchanges - not because of its ownership. BT service became better becasue of digital exchanges - not because of its ownership.

          1. Gio Ciampa

            Re: @Lee D

            "BT service became better"

            Utter Bull!

            £125 to "connect" me (meaning: someone at a console pressing a button - the wiring was already in place)

            1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

              Re: @Lee D

              £125 to "connect" me (meaning: someone at a console pressing a button - the wiring was already in place)

              Unlikely. There wire might have been there, but the various connections at distribution frames and cabinets may not have been. Besides, the universal service obligation prevented them from charging £50 for the "easy" connections, and £5k for the house that needed half a dozen poles installed. A flat fee for most 'normal' connections was seen as simpler and fairer.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @Lee D

            "BT privatisation co-incided with the introduction of System X exchanges. Indeed, the perceived cost of the changeover was the original driver for privatisation."

            But that's my point again - government will not invest (or perhaps, government cannot invest wisely). In THEORY they could have invested in new water assets (and telecoms, and electricity, and gas, and rail). But they never did. On the few occasions they tried to invest the results were often a mess (eg the part completed national trunk road network, or the 1955 rail modernisation plan, madcap 1960s and 1970s ideas for oil fired power stations Littlebrook, Grain, Tilbury and Fawley and so forth).

          3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: @Lee D

            BT service was crap because of analogue exchanges - not because of its ownership. BT service became better becasue of digital exchanges - not because of its ownership

            The contents of the exchange building, whether crossbar, system X or system Y, had no impact on the availability of underground plant, or of repair times. Digital exchanges certainly improved the network in terms of new features, and simpler (=cheaper) meter reading, but what really improved BT's service was the change of ownership. It could make its own decisions about where to spend its own cash, and didn't have to rely on civil servants to centrally-plan everything.

        2. TheOtherHobbes

          Re: @Lee D

          >I'm staggered that you could believe that government would be a good steward of any asset.

          I'm staggered that anyone would believe corporations are better. Enron? Price-fixing banks? BT? The fact that most UK infrastructure is overpriced, undercapitalised, and barely performing?

          The answer is probably some completely new legal and commercial entity, which can be kept efficient enough to avoid bullying by civil servants but is independent enough to avoid bullying by the City.

          Might take a while to get there.

          1. NeilPost Bronze badge

            Re: @Lee D

            The UK actually has some of the lowest telecoms charges in the world....

          2. KroSha

            Re: @Lee D

            Maybe what we need is a Government owned player in these markets. Owned, but not run by Whitehall. With no shareholders, they shouldn't be interested in gouging the consumer too much, and the additional competition might make the other water/power/telecoms b*****ds sit up and take notice. Plus a nice addition to the Treasury income when the (small) profits get declared.

            1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

              Re: @Lee D

              Owned, but not run by Whitehall. With no shareholders

              Of cours it would have shareholders. Every taxpayer would be a shareholder.

              And who would run it, and for what targets? Charge too little and it won't be able to attract decent staff, so it will get the reputation for being shite. Charge too much and it won't have any customers. How would it be any different from any other player, except for not being accountable to anyone who can actually control it?

        3. Peter Methven

          Re: @Lee D

          You clearly haven't tried to get a new phone line provisioned recently... Ours took 8 weeks from the order and was 3 weeks late, one of our neighbours waited 6 months... And then was told it was the fault for not complaining more!

    2. Ol'Peculier
      Meh

      Take a look at EE's coverage map, zoom in to just west of the North Yorkshire coast and you'll see a place called Wold Newton covered by 4G. Place has got a population of about 300, Wonder if one of them is a EE director?

      1. Mister_C
        Pint

        @ Ol'Peculier

        Or maybe said director is a fan of Wold Top brewery. And thus clearly a person of taste and discernment.

        1. Ol'Peculier
          Thumb Up

          Re: @ Ol'Peculier

          Very good point, very well made. Just have to wait to get 4G in Masham next...

      2. David Beck

        EE 4G in Chipping Norton too

        Can't imagine why.

  4. Chad H.

    Doesn't Work?

    AAISP called. It works.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Doesn't Work?

      "AAISP called. It works."

      You and me know that, but for folk like Mr Rockman who say it can't be done, where can they go for further information on how this "impossible" thing has been working for a UK ISP/telco for the last few years?

      Or is it just that the big boys *want* it to be impossible?

      [I don't understand it well enough to even start to explain it]

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Doesn't Work?

        " this "impossible" thing has been working for a UK ISP/telco for the last few years"

        At small scales lots of things are wholly feasible but won't scale up, because they have potentially unbalancing influences are not large enough to cause problems whilst they remain a minority of system users. This is true for all forms of infrastructure and networks.

        There seems to be a belief that Sajid Javid has put forward an idea with lots of problems as a final solution. In reality it is a useful threat to encourage the MNOs to come up with a better solution that is more to their liking.

  5. tentimes

    Actually it's a GREAT idea (if amended slightly)

    Several companies trying to duplicate the same infrastructure is the cause of having poor reception in many areas for most users. It is terribly inefficient.

    If all companies pooled resources and paid pro-rata for their part in the investment in masts it would be a far better system, with further reach, less notspots, better data rates and jam for everyone.

    Can you imagine the internet if all ISP's stuck to only their own backbones? Well the mobile network is in a conversion to be in IP network like teh interwebs and they need to come to similar peering agreements and stop duplicating masts. It is just not realistic (given the profit margins) to continue as they do.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > EE has been similarly forthright on national roaming

    It's particularly irritating that EE are against an idea that they themselves have already proven to work. The Orange / T-Mobile free roaming that went on before they merged was pretty successful.

    When the scheme stopped after they become EE my local signal got significantly worse again as they decommissioned some of the "overlapping" towers.

    1. Frederic Bloggs

      Sadly not in the not(very much coverage) spots in the South Downs and other rural areas "served" by more than one distant base station. Before the EE/T-M roaming there was a degree of base station flip flopping here but when the roaming was switched on, the service became unusable. For some obscure reason (that EE [c/w]ouldn't explain) my mobiles tended to roam onto the even weaker T-M base hereabouts.

      Ended up changing to Vodafone, but only because it has a local infill base station. With no 3/4G, but at least the 2G phone system works.

  7. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Technical arguments

    Given how well roaming works internationally I think it's safe to say that all technical arguments against national roaming are bunk. The article does highlight the two key points: spectrum without conditions; and decommissioning of sites.

    The networks and suppliers are moving towards a classic separation of responsibilities with the suppliers taking over more and more of the business of actually building the physical network – the incentive here is scale and knowhow – which they can then rent to the networks in much the same way that wired telephone exchanges are.

    But even with the scale of one physical network for all four operators there are still plenty of sites which are unprofitable. Arguably the consolidation has made the situation even more acute because networks are no longer competing through coverage differentiation. The simple solution is to mandate better geographical coverage to encourage build out and discourage decommissioning. Difficult to do once the spectrum has been awarded but still possible through financial incentives: tax breaks might be best here rather than handouts. The costs associated with the additional cells are pretty easy to calculate so a formula can be derived that works for everyone. This could be augmented with community cells for isolated villages that might want more bandwidth or granular coverage than the networks are willing to provide and you might need to grease BT's palm to lay some fibre here and there for the backhaul.

    Long term, however, I suspect that national roaming will come in through the backdoor: 2016 will allow separate contracts for roaming and the rollout of wholesale telephony and data roaming which will make OTT services including VoIP accessible to everyone and will put further downward pressure on margins. But it won't improve coverage unless someone legislates for it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Technical arguments

      "Given how well roaming works internationally I think it's safe to say that all technical arguments against national roaming are bunk."

      Yeah, because all those overseas networks are physically co-located with your home network in the UK so the handset vendors have already sorted out how that will work....

  8. tirk

    I don't buy the "18 months too long to approve a tower" excuse

    After all, the poor coverage with 3G was there for way longer than the last 18 months.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't buy the "18 months too long to approve a tower" excuse

      It's bullshit. Vodafone and O2 applied for planning permission for a 24m tower near me, which was granted (with a lot of support from local residents pissed off with poor mobile coverage, as well as a few anti NIMBYs) two and a half years ago. To date nothing has been done to build it whatsoever.

  9. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    As someone who carries 2 phones (Vodafone and O2) when on business to ensure that I have a signal, UK roaming doesn't sound like such a stupid idea. In my recent and everyday experience there are vast chunks of the UK where it's Vodafone xor O2, whatever the coverage maps say. Essex, Norfolk, N.Devon are all problematic. As general rule, if you can see the sea then there'll be a coverage issue.

    1. A Twig

      Which is ironic given that O2 and Vodafone generally are supposed to be sharing infrastructure.

      Vodafone customer support expressed great surprise that on my dual SIM phone I can get full O2 signal at home, yet zero Vodafone - "we share sites, it should be the same"

      Well its not, the only place I see full signal on both is a city centre, and then congestion is usually so bad that I can;t make the call/use the data I want anyway!

      1. Ian Watkinson

        I get the reverse, zero 02 reception at home without a boost box. 4G 5 bars with Voda.

        So the sharing is definately not working.

    2. Ian Watkinson

      Actually normally if I can see the sea I'm fine. Vodafone tends to think I'm in France, but the reception's fine....

  10. DrXym Silver badge

    A more radical solution

    Stop granting these companies permission to erect their own masts in certain areas and make them share their cell tower sites which are chosen based on coverage rather than financial gain.

  11. Yugguy

    Half the UK can't get a decent fecking mobile signal

    But OOOH, OOOOH, 5G is coming please give us lots of money.

  12. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Of course it looks bad to someone coming from an Italian telecoms operator

    All they have to do in Italy is apply to the town council and they take care of not having a public consultation and not objecting within 90 days and it's granted.

    However, oddly enough, he forgot to mention that if for some reason the town hall rejects the application then the appeals process takes up to 3 years.

    Perhaps we can look for ourselves how things are done instead of listening to someone who might not be completely unbiased...

    http://www.gsma.com/publicpolicy/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/GSMA_BaseStation_Planning_EuropeWEB.pdf

  13. Mage Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Yes, stupid because...

    The idea isn't without merit, but as it stands it won't work. The only sensible solution is a wholesale company that runs ALL the base stations and whose licence says 99.5% Geographic (not population) coverage and minimum capacity standards (thus mast density has to vary with population and not just the current scenario where mast density is based solely on ROI vs capex. Like SES-Astra runs the Satellites that Freesat & Sky use.

    Then every one else is a MVNO.

    It's a RAN.

    It would also on average double capacity because you wouldn't have the stupid situation where at one location your speed is 0.12bps or you can't connect or make a call, on ONE operator, but the other operator's channels are sitting idle.

    The problem is weak regulation from Ofcom, who supports operators against the consumer and a totally blind devotion to idea that competition is always good. It's not like baked beans. There is limited spectrum. The real reason to have multiple operators on the spectrum instead of one Wholesale RAN operator is to get more money in licence fees. The RAN operator should pay NOTHING for licence and the revenue raised from the retailers (VAT gets a lot already).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yes, stupid because...

      > 99.5% Geographic (not population) coverage

      Oh, great idea. That way we all get to pay for masts all over the country, including those parts of Scotland where nobody lives but sheep? That'll really help keep costs down.

  14. Simon Rockman

    Ofcom

    Ofcom seems to think its role is to sit between the operators and government, not to control the operators.

    1. PNGuinn
      Mushroom

      Re: Ofcom

      Offcom knows its role only too well.

      It's to sit on the fence and scoff as much pork as it can from all sides, and work hard to make the worst decisions possible.

      S**&33!! the consumer who in the end pays for it all.

      Takes real skill to do all that, you know.

      Example: 4g. Why bother? get decent 3g coverage FIRST and plan for a 5/6g network when the operators get 3g sorted. A bit like uk obsolete DAB radio. If you didn't know better you'd likely think OFFCOM might have a fat finger in that somewhere as well ...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ofcom

      Ofcom seems to think its role is to do what government tells it to, not to control the operators.

      FTFY

  15. ilmari

    (I live outside UK)

    I remember when men from "the mobile phone company" came survey the local geography. As this is quite a small town, word of the strangers quickly got around, and soon there was quite a crowd, some with their moose hunting rifles "just in case".

    When the strangers explained that they were looking for a good site to erect a mobile phone mast, everyone was quick to put their knives and rifles away, shake the hands if the strangers, "I have a hill not far from here you shoukd come look at" - "My hill is the tallest hill in town, it would obviously be mich better", and so on.

    Eventually they placed it on my neighbour's hill, not because neighbour had a taller hill, or wanted less money, but because it had easier access.

    Anyway, what never quire became clear, was which company was building the mast. There were 3 operators, and stories about whose mast it was varied monthly. Eventually, years later, I found that it was none of them. A small regional ISP had branched out into mast building. They had a line of fibre going i a straight line through the region, and towers placed at intervals along the fibre. To both sides of the fibre gateway, they placed towers that they linked with microwave links. Space in the masts and capacity on their backbone was rented out to any operator.

  16. Dave Bell

    Never Mind the Bullocks (This will go on for heifer and heifer...)

    It seems plausible to me that the landscape models used for planning site locations and generating the coverage maps are being used by people who don't expect trees to grow.

    And, while the frequencies are different now, I can remember when there did seem to be significant differences between late July and early September as the landscape changed from a thick brush-like surface of ripening wheat and barley to short, rather dry, stubble. Could I have used the combine harvester to have created a waveguide across the top 30-acre?

    Meanwhile, all the broadband special offers I've been getting will end before the currently-annouced FTTC. start date in these parts. They don't seem to be doing much about IPv6 either. Engineering, I think, is too low a priority.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "delay the rollout of 4G by 18-24 months"

    Fine by me, longer would be better.

    I don't need 4G's much-needed higher speeds, and nor do most people. Therefore I have no wish to pay for it (unless it saves me money).

    I do need better coverage - I've just forked out on a dual-SIM phone because I'm spending time in two different places which don't have a working network in common.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: "delay the rollout of 4G by 18-24 months"

      "I don't need 4G's much-needed higher speeds, and nor do most people. Therefore I have no wish to pay for it (unless it saves me money)."

      I thought that too. Then 4G popped up in my area and my phone started using it.

      It's not just faster, it's more stable and reliable and holds a signal whilst moving much better - for a greater distance. I don't think it costs me any extra, and battery life is improved (because certain things that used to grumble away for several minutes on a slow link are over and done with in a second).

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    O2

    Still on 2G and patchy coverage in the Orkney Isles :(

    We have a lovely Tetra mast up the road, maybe I can hack into that. [for legal reasons, that is a joke]

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: O2

      Don't feel bad, I have the same problem with O2 - in Battersea. My recent inability to make calls from St Georges Hospital in Tooting (when I really, really needed to) was the last ****ing straw and I'm off to EE, but I don't hold out any hope it's going to be better.

      I wouldn't mind if the situation seemed to be improving, but it appears to be going the other way. I'm losing more calls and failing to find 3G more often now than at any point in the last 5 years.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: O2

        3 has very good coverage & capacity in Battersea. It's a complete coincidence that their parent company's European HQ is there

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can't believe I'm about to suggest this but how about the Government set up a separate company that owns and controls the masts and the mobile operators just bid for spaces on the mast. At a push the Government could even run their own service on the mast and force though roaming between your regular provider and the Government only which is surely simpler than roaming between all providers.

    Of course any scheme like this would fail appallingly from the word go because the Government would be involved which means everyone feels they should get a say and paid for doing basically nothing, oh and no one would get the blame when it fails.

    Plan B it is then, business as usual.

  20. LucreLout Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Voda must be joking!

    "There's also too many restrictions here that landlords can apply, so the solution would be to declare us [the mobile telecoms industry] a critical infrastructure, allowing us to put up whatever."

    Sorry Vinny, but there's a reason that despite owning a mobile for 20 years, I've been a vodafone cutomer for just 2 hours of it. And no, it wasn't an issue of dealing only with low level grunts, because I contacted you directly and you too were useless.

    The idea that you should be allowed to "put up whatever" is a total nonstarter until you can get a grip on your company such that it can provide even rudimentary service to the paying public.

    Until my train to work is critical infrastructure (and that means no strikes), there's a lengthy queue ahead of my mobile provider for that partciular designation. Worst case is I live without my phone for a few days.... which, funilly enough, is what happened when I ported my number to your network and due to the inability of your staff, I was left with a non-functioning number for 7 days. It's also how I lived the first 20 years of my life and nobody died! You're just not that important.

  21. Graham Marsden
    Megaphone

    " one in seven voice calls attempted on commuter train routes failed"

    I think most of us would be happier if that was one in one voice calls on commuter trains failed!

    Shouty icon for the "I'm ON THE TRAIN" idiots...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ESN

    I imagine that one of the unspoken drivers for this is that gov.uk has realised that their proposed dual bearer MVNO that they wish to create to replace Airwave upgrade emergency services comms won't otherwise have the geographic coverage that they require. Especially in the sort of rural/beauty/rugged spots that their "customers" tend to hide terrorist training camps break their legs in.

  23. Jim Hague

    The weekly 'national roaming is a terrible idea' piece

    I can't help thinking that if the mobile networks are so keen that this is a bad idea, it's got more than something going for it.

    The status quo seems to be that UK networks have reached a rather cosy place, where competing on network quality or coverage doesn't happen, not outside the M25 anyway. Well, it's not like anywhere else matters. I'm sensing that national roaming might disturb this cosyness...

  24. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Slightly different roaming idea

    Perhaps an incentive would be the operator with the least national coverage gets to piggyback off the operator with the most coverage in the areas where the first operator is deficient for a time (say, the same amount of time as an average customer's minimum contract period).

    It would be an incentive for everyone to roll out more coverage, the operator with least coverage as they get their own network and aren't forced to subsidise a competitor for having poor coverage and the operator with most coverage as their roll-out is subsidised.

    At the end of the period, if the operator still hasn't got their act together then they can't repeat again, that honour goes to the operator with the second-least national coverage. Customers would suddenly lose coverage, get annoyed, and leave. Tough luck, the operator knew it was coming.

  25. David Hickson (Fair Telecoms Campaign)

    fair telecoms campaign view

    The fair telecoms campaign submitted its response to the DCMS consultation - interested readers can refer to it via http://tiny.cc/ft_single_mobile_network.

    1. Simon Rockman

      Re: fair telecoms campaign view

      David,

      Although the link doesn't work I went and found your response. Your view is fundamentally flawed. You can't treat telecoms in the same way as you can utilities or to some extent transport. Telecoms and particularly mobile telecoms undergoes significant technology changes. In transport if 1G is the horse, 2G is the car. Mobiles have gone from analogue, to TDMA digital to wideband CDMA to OFDM and we'll me on to MiMo in fifty years. There is no way a national utility could keep up.

      1. David Hickson (Fair Telecoms Campaign)

        Re: fair telecoms campaign view

        Our view is that the Minister has made a very strong case for their to be (in effect) a single network, and that is unlikely to be achieved by rival operators both competing and co-operating. We favour the model of a single network operator, pressured by competing service operators and consumers to keep up with what technology can provide, but subject to a degree of regulation which is not possible in the present situation.

        There are already only two companies managing the operation of the 4 networks, and there is a possibility that the formerly 5 MNOs could soon become 3.

        I can understand why some would see the objective of a network offering fair coverage for all citizens as being fundamentally flawed, however that is the principle laid out in the consultation to which we offered a response. Obviously there will be limits on the extent to which it could ever be achieved, however that does not mean that the objective should not be taken seriously.

  26. MyffyW Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Perhaps there needs to be permission granted for a network to leave a site

    No. I suspect further regulation would be used as another excuse for slow progress by the operators. If you want more coverage, remove regulations don't impose new ones. The fact that such a free for all will lead to blighted landscapes and green-inked letters to local newspapers just points to the inherent contradictions of capitalism. Not that I have any better system. Yet.

  27. Meep

    Backhaul Burnout...

    There are times I would like to see is how much of the backend backhaul network is maxed out and how much of the RF TDM networks are maxed out... I get the distinct feeling that some of the mobile networks poor performance is down to backhaul networks being maxed and not the RF TDM...

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Backhaul Burnout...

      That's easy to check... 4 (or whatever) bars but the browser sits there doing nothing instead of loading a page.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Backhaul Burnout...

        On 3G you can have full signal bars and no throughput because the air interface is congested - most handsets only look at signal strength and ignore signal to noise ratio.

        Similarly on 2G, the handsets measure received power of the broadcast channels and show bars based on that. But a strong signal on the broadcast channel doesn't mean there's any traffic channel available.

  28. Justthefacts

    Dual-SIM / No SIM

    Bear with me on this, more interesting question at the end....

    Sharing mast infrastructure / eNodeB / backhaul should (as far I see it) be logically identical to having a dual-SIM (or multi-SIM) in the handset, for coverage and performance. Just flick to each network in turn, and try it.

    First - wouldn't this be more efficient for an interim aggregator to automate this into producing a multi-SIM PAYG? Then, this wouldn't require government pushing, and it wouldn't require industry-wide agreement.

    Second - haven't Apple started the process of swinging the industry from being owned by network operators, to be owned by handset manufacturers. Specifically, by producing a SIM-less next-gen iPhone (I haven't a reference to it, but I remember a Reg article something like "that was the last SIM you'll ever need). Once SIM's disappear - won't that make the whole discussion moot?

    The experience would be similar to just starting your tablet and waiting for it to pick up the WiFi (so long as it has logged in to that network once before). There is some tech unpleasantness to be figured out (advertising adjacent cells in SIB for handoff), but I suspect that could still be done handset-side with a bit of thought.

    Philosophically, you might prefer the Vodafone Godzilla to the Fruity Stasi, but that's another question

  29. James 100

    "First - wouldn't this be more efficient for an interim aggregator to automate this into producing a multi-SIM PAYG? Then, this wouldn't require government pushing, and it wouldn't require industry-wide agreement."

    AAISP already did exactly that, except not quite PAYG - you pay £2 or so per month, plus usage. You can use O2, EE or Vodafone (Three should be an option too, although apparently that doesn't work right now), either by forcing carrier selection in the iPhone menu, or letting it pick automatically. O2 happens to be cheapest (right now) - but if I happen to stray out of their coverage, I can fall back on EE instead. In practice, of course, anywhere O2 lacks coverage, I'm usually out of range of the others too, unless it's just mast maintenance or whatever...

    Yes, Apple have a multi-carrier SIM for iPads now in the US, so you can just pick one carrier for this month (maybe a cheap low-usage plan), then change it to another one next month (maybe a bit faster, because you expect to use it heavily) if it suits you better; I suspect actual roaming would be a small step on from that, so you could use, say, Verizon's nice fast service most of the time, then PAYG fill-in from T-Mobile in a gap in Verizon's coverage, or Bell Canada if you stray across the border.

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