Living in a predominantly rural area, we have all undoubtedly experienced the frustrations associated with receiving a poor mobile signal. Some of us can find it impossible to make or receive calls in some blackspot areas, let alone surf the web.
While many urban dwellers are spoilt by almost blanket 4G coverage, in rural areas picking up a 3G signal is a dream that rarely comes true and the majority of us are left relieved with ‘one bar’ signal strength – often obtained by desperately waving the handset in the air while standing on a chair. While it may be an amusing image, it’s not so funny if you need to make an urgent or emergency call while working alone on an isolated farm.
A study undertaken by Ofcom found that good mobile reception and the ability to use your phone or tablet to access the internet are essential to modern rural life. Access to the mobile network means users having the unhindered ability to run their businesses, keep in touch with family and friends, contact the emergency services, and access information, and education and entertainment content online.
Unfortunately, the lack of a decent mobile signal is holding back opportunity for the people in the Fens.
The Government has realised action needs to be taken and, following a public consultation, favours the introduction of a ‘national roaming mobile network’ in order to tackle partial mobile ‘not-spots’.
This is the CLA’s preferred option, with roaming encouraging mobile operators to work together for the benefit of consumers. There are technical challenges to overcome, but if operators can work together then it is possible that universal mobile coverage can be achieved.
However, the Mobile Operators Association has warned this approach would take years to implement and might not fully address the problem of ‘not-spots’, while acting as a disincentive to building more infrastructure. Additionally, customers might face the prospect of more dropped calls as the phone switches networks.
The Government has also recently handed communications infrastructure provider Arqiva a £150 million contract to improve mobile services in rural areas as part of the Mobile Infrastructure Project.
However, in the rush to improve mobile connectivity in rural areas, care must be taken the landowners who provide the land on which mobile masts are located are not disadvantaged. Fair rents must be paid, based on fair negotiation, without compulsion and threats.
The bottom line is the Fens needs a communications solution as a matter of urgency.