Government has it wrong on ‘notspot’ proposals


National roaming will lead to degradation of services and investment say leading analysts

Operators objections to government proposals to counteract mobile coverage blackspots with national roaming are justified, according to industry analysts.

A consultation, unveiled by Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Sajid Javid on November 5, will look to combat ‘partial not-spots’ where a mobile signal is not available from all four operators.

The Government claims more than one million people live in these areas where they have no choice over their provider and ‘tens of millions’ who travel there lose connectivity.

The consultation, which only covers voice traffic, will look at a number of ways to solve this including national roaming between operators’ networks, infrastructure sharing between operators and allowing an MVNO access to multiple networks.

Ovum practice leader Matthew Howett says the Government should work at getting the operators onside to combat the issue instead of alienating them.

“It’s obvious that the Government needs to get the industry on its side if they’re going to do this successfully. To go down a route which angers them and imposes huge cost and burden is not really going to achieve that.”

IDC’s analyst John Delaney added: “If you invest in building a network somewhere and your competitor is allowed to use it for free, essentially, it is going to be a disincentive for you in building that network.

“That’s the main issue – it creates some perverse economic incentives.”

Operators have stated their commitment to improving coverage in these areas but have rejected the current government proposals as unworkable.

An EE spokesperson labelled national roaming a “flawed concept” and appealed for the government to work more closely with the industry.

“We fully support the Government on the joint ambition to improve rural coverage. We’re keenly aware that there are some parts of the UK where customers still can’t get adequate signal levels and, while  we’re already working on some significant nationwide coverage improvement plans, we also need Government to work more closely with the industry to remove the barriers to efficiently building more signal in more places.

“What we don’t want to do is implement the flawed concept of ‘national roaming’. This will deteriorate network reliability for tens of millions across the UK, plus it also risks prices rising, which customers understandably won’t tolerate.”

Vodafone, who is in the middle of a £1 billion network investment programme added:

“National roaming will not provide better quality voice and mobile internet coverage. In fact, it would make coverage and quality significantly worse with a higher risk of dropped calls, lower battery life and negative impact on services such as voicemail.

“We have explained to the Government that national roaming is different to international roaming. It would be technically far more complex, slow to implement and would cause serious problems with network resilience.”