Government denies UK roaming plan – and operators oppose it

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Story had suggested operators would have to provide customers with a national roaming network in a bid to increase coverage in rural areas

The government has denied widespread reports that it plans to introduce a national roaming network in the UK to help boost mobile coverage in rural areas.

The original story suggested operators could soon be forced to provide customers with the service even if they are connected through a rival network and using their phone in an area where their provider doesn’t have coverage.

The story was allegedly based around comments made by new Culture Secretary Sajid Javad – although no direct quotes were published.

However, a spokesperson for the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) told Mobile News Javad had not said anything about the matter and that they were in discussions with mobile operators about “options to improve mobile coverage”.

The spokesperson also pointed to a £150 million investment scheme to provide and pay for network equipment to be installed in areas where operators have not chosen to invest.

Lack of investment

Sources within network operators have made their positions clear, claiming such a move would lead to a lack of investment in new masts and that there were huge technological barriers to overcome, such as billing and transferring between networks.

“There would be no difference in network quality between operators,” said one network source. “If the government wants national roaming, the government should own the networks. Fundamentally, you won’t get an investment culture, like there is in mobile now, if it doesn’t matter what network you’re on.”

Another added: “Not only would we be struggling to invest in improving things, we’d also have to invest millions just to put the capabilities in place, which would mean we would have no competitive advantage.”

However, network-testing firm GWS rejected claims technology was a barrier – and instead blamed licensing requirements laid down by regulators for not being strict enough.

Ofcom claims 99.7 per cent of the population is covered by at least one 2G or 3G network operator (as of May 2013).

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