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Eight in 10 areas in the UK lack full 4G coverage

Millions of people are at risk of mobile signal blackouts because they live in the four-fifths of UK constituency areas that suffer from patchy 4G mobile coverage, new analysis from Which? reveals.

The Which? analysis of Ofcom’s Connected Nations data looked at the whole of the UK to see how many areas have 4G mobile coverage from all four operators - the only way to ensure consumers have a choice of providers that can offer a consistent level of service throughout their area.

The research comes amid discussions between the UK Government and mobile operators over how to boost mobile broadband access in poorly-served areas and ensure the government meets its target of extending 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the country by 2022.

Currently, only 67 per cent of the UK’s geographical area has 4G coverage from all four operators, while 8 per cent has no 4G mobile coverage at all.

Overall, the Which? study found that in 524 out of 650 UK parliamentary constituencies (80%) 4G coverage is not available from all four operators in the whole constituency.

The most poorly-served city-based constituencies - each with less than 80 per cent of the constituency receiving coverage from all four operators - were Rochford and Southend in Essex, South West Devon, and Romsey and Southampton North in Hampshire.

Among the worst affected town-based constituencies for mobile coverage - with less than 60 per cent of the constituency receiving 4G coverage from all four operators - were Clwyd West in Wales, Barrow and Furness in Cumbria, Ribble Valley in Lancashire and Scarborough and Whitby in North Yorkshire.

In England, a quarter (23%) of constituencies have 4G coverage from all four operators. Among those who are well-served are the Loughborough constituents of Nicky Morgan - the new Culture Secretary, who is responsible for delivering the government’s 95 per cent coverage target. 

In a separate survey, Which? found that half (49%) of people said they experienced patchy mobile phone signal at least once a month.

Over half (57%) of those who experienced a lack of mobile phone coverage in the last three months said they experienced a significant impact as a result - the most common being the inability to make or receive important phone calls or messages.

A quarter (23%) of those who experienced a lack of mobile phone coverage in the last 3 months said they felt stressed as a result.

SHARED RURAL NETWORK

Discussions between the government and mobile operators in recent months have centred on a plan to expand digital infrastructure in specific areas into a single network asset that all operators can use and share. 

This so-called ‘Shared Rural Network’ would take 4G landmass coverage from all operators from the current level of 67 per cent to 92 per cent - but plans are yet to be finalised.

Which? believes the government must stick to its 95% target and ensure it includes 4G coverage from all four operators - so that people have access to reliable coverage at home, work and on the move from a choice of operators, and are able to get a package that suits their needs.

Without swift action from government, Which? is concerned the current deadline will be missed, leaving too many people without decent access to the basic 4G coverage they desperately need.

Caroline Normand, Which? Director of Advocacy, said:  

“Millions of people are finding it difficult to get a reliable mobile connection and risk missing out on digital services we increasingly rely on like online banking, maps and NHS information - while some even struggle to receive important calls and messages. 

“To tackle this unacceptable and widening digital divide, the government must act now to connect the UK with truly comprehensive mobile and broadband by swiftly putting in place a plan to give communities the infrastructure they need.”

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