Mobile not-spots - an update on our research

Initial research into mobile not-spots. It identifies different types of mobile coverage issues, looks at the reasons they exist and ongoing market developments to address these issues. Ofcom is conducting further work in this area.

Published 05|11|10

One page overview

1.1 Mobile usage has changed dramatically in the last decade and is still evolving. There are increasing numbers of mobile-only households and for most consumers, mobile access is now regarded as a necessity rather than a premium service. As devices become 'smarter', offering new applications, expectations about the availability of mobile services will rise further.

1.2 'Mobile not-spots' are areas where people cannot access mobile services. Investigating this issue is one of our 2010-11 Annual Plan priorities. We prioritised it due to consumer and stakeholder concerns. Our aim in this work is to develop an evidence base and to clarify the scope for any solutions. This report sets out our findings so far. It draws on two new pieces of research, published today. We will carry out more work over the coming months.

1.3 The issue of 'mobile not-spots' is a multifaceted one. Our report identifies five distinct types of problems - complete not-spots (no coverage at all), 3G not-spots (no mobile broadband coverage), partial (operator-specific) not-spots, interrupted coverage on the move and indoor coverage. Distinguishing these issues is important, because the potential for commercial solutions to them varies, as does the nature and potential benefit of actions we might take.

1.4 The data we have shows that some parts of the UK have lower levels of mobile coverage than others. We also examined the impacts of not-spots and found these varied - from daily effects of missing calls, to a loss of social connection or business efficiency, to undermining efforts to deal with emergencies.

1.5 We also looked at case-studies to examine why these not-spot issues occur. This research suggests that commercial considerations are the main cause, although planning factors also appear to be important for lack of coverage on the railways.

1.6 We looked at whether mobile operators' plans could potentially address these issues. We found that some problems may reduce in scale as a result of market developments - particularly 3G not-spots, partial not-spots and indoor coverage problems but none will disappear entirely. In particular 'complete not-spots', which exist mostly in rural areas, seem likely to persist to some degree.

1.7 We considered what Ofcom could do to help progress this issue. Our role is to promote effective competition and help communications markets to work for consumers. However, mobile not-spots also raise important wider policy issues because of the reliance that our society now places on mobile phones. As decisions arise, Ofcom will continue to take these considerations into account in accordance with our duties. We can also seek to contribute to and implement public policy on relevant issues that Government may wish to consider.

1.8 Our work in this area will continue. In addition to our ongoing research, there are two new areas where we will prioritise further work: examining the scope for improving coverage information (to help consumers choose the best provider, which may also enable operators to compete more to improve coverage); and facilitating railway coverage through discussions with stakeholders. We will also continue to engage with the wide range of stakeholders with an interest in this issue.