UK-wide 3G mobile coverage is poor according to an Ofcom report, which shows that many firms and users still cannot get a 3G signal, and that almost 8m premises do not even an adequate choice of 3G mobile provider.
Ofcom has published a mobile communication map based on data provided by the mobile companies themselves, which exposes their incapability and/or unwillingness to provide a comprehensive 3G service, despite them holding 3G spectrum licenses for over 10 years.
When the mobile companies won those licenses they promised Ofcom that they would strive to provide UK-wide services, but they have failed in many areas to do so.
Ofcom’s data shows considerably better household coverage compared with geographic coverage. This is because mobile providers tend to prioritise investment in network infrastructure where the maximum number of consumers and businesses can be served.
The Ofcom mobile map shows that 97 percent of premises and 66 percent of the UK landmass can receive a 2G signal outdoors from all four 2G networks. This means that approximately 900,000 UK premises do not have a choice of all four 2G mobile networks.
For 3G, 73 percent of premises and only 13 percent of the UK’s landmass can receive a signal outdoors from all five 3G networks, with lower coverage in less densely populated areas.
This means that approximately 7.7 million UK premises do not have a choice of all five 3G mobile networks.
The areas of lowest 3G geographic coverage are in the highlands of Scotland and mid-Wales which are both sparsely populated with hilly terrain.
Not surprisingly, the Greater London area is the biggest 3G hotspot, with 98 percent coverage for all all premises, and 94 percent coverage from all five operators by land mass.
In contrast, York is one of the better areas outside London, with 89 percent coverage for all premises, but only 56 percent for all operators by land mass. In contrast, in Norfolk - including the city of Norwich - only 41 percent of premises are covered by 3G and a miserly 7 percent of the land mass in Norfolk is covered by all five 3G operators.
With more staff working remotely and the government saying better communications play a key role to growing the economy, the poor overall 3G figures will bring some heat on the mobile providers.
Ofcom is currently working closely with the government to consider how the £150 million that it has allocated to help address mobile "not-spots" can deliver the greatest benefits for UK consumers.
Working to address mobile not-spots is one of Ofcom’s priorities as set out in its 2011/12 annual plan.
Ofcom chief technology officer Steve Unger said: “This is our first report to the government on the UK’s communications infrastructure. We hope it will be a useful reference point for interested parties."