The government’s preferred solution of ’national roaming’ to deal with mobile not-spots, while sounds attractive to those with coverage issues, is a messy solution that ought to be abandoned. The cost, complexity and side effects of national roaming make it such an unworkable fix that the industry thought had been dropped. While it might work when you travel abroad, it isn’t a solution to dealing with poor mobile coverage domestically. Aside from the cost, potential side effects include reduced battery life, and for some customers even loosing data services for prolonged periods. It’s also not expected to address poor data coverage, but only problems with 2G voice services.
What needs to happen over the next few weeks is collectively for the mobile operators to work with government to come up with an agreeable fix that addresses not only poor voice coverage, but also data too. Any solution must also acknowledge the fact that things are heading in the right direction. Mobile spectrum auctioned last year at 800MHz is particularly well suited to covering large and more rural areas and operators are only just starting to make use of these airwaves. The eventual solution must work to incentivise operators to continue to invest in rolling out networks, which is already happening at a far quicker pace that anticipated just a few years ago. The most obvious thing for the government to do would be to make it easier for operators to put up masts quickly and in the most cost effective way.
While not directly linked, Ofcom’s ongoing reconsideration of annual spectrum licence fees is also likely to be pulled into this debate. The current proposal is for the mobile operators to collectively pay an additional £182.3 million a year more than they currently do to use the 900MHz and 1800MHz spectrum bands. You are expect the operators to suggest that this money might be better spent improving the issue of not-spot.