Earlier this month OFCOM – the UK’s regulatory body, published a set of maps showing coverage for the five UK networks with a 3G license. If you’re one of those people who believe the network’s claims about almost universal coverage, they will come as quite a shock. Rather than a ruddy red glow of national coverage, they make the operators look more akin to a teenager in the first flushes of acne.
They come as a worrying dose of reality given the promises of Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report. Whilst 3 can claim to have something approaching the start of coverage (and I’d stress that it’s only the start of coverage), the efforts of the other four, and in particular O2 is nothing less than shameful.
There are a couple of things that make this even more concerning. The first is that the results are essentially theoretical, based on an agreed propagation model; OFCOM has yet to validate them on a large scale by checking actual reception. The report mentions that where a comparison was made with test drive data it resulted in an 8dB correction, but they don’t mention in which direction, or whether it is reflected in the maps. The second concern is that this is presumably the coverage for voice. If we look at mobile data, we know two things: a much better link budget is required to achieve decent data rates as edge effects drastically limit the effective size of the cell when multiple handsets are using it (See my earlier post and Moray Rumney’s excellent article). If these are applied to the coverage maps, the prospect for national mobile broadband looks like a pipedream.
The question is whether publication of this data will shame the networks into improving their coverage.