Ofcom publishes second phase of mobile sector assessment

Ofcom has underlined its commitment to competition, consumer protection and investment in the mobile market with the publication of the second phase of its mobile sector assessment. Ofcom also published UK maps of 3G mobile network coverage for the first time.

Ofcom’s recent research shows that consumers are increasingly using mobile networks to access the internet on their computers via a dongle or 3G datacard. There were over two million new connections to mobile broadband between February 2008 and February 2009.

Mobile network coverage in the UK is generally good but some problems persist, particularly in rural areas. Ofcom is focusing on persistent so called ‘not-spot’ areas and working where it can to facilitate better mobile coverage.

To help address these problems Ofcom will: assist the Government on its proposals to make more spectrum available for mobile broadband as well as the work to improve 3G coverage on key transport routes; and undertake new research to explore for the first time the technical quality of service – such as mobile broadband speeds – that consumers receive from mobile devices; and investigate the causes of some persistent mobile coverage ‘not-spots’ – areas of poor or no reception – and work with public bodies to consider how to resolve these issues. This may include providing guidance on ways to overcome coverage issues.

Separately, Ofcom has published for the first time a series of maps showing coverage across the UK by mobile networks using 3G technology.

Pete Marsden, vice president IT and networks at Orange UK, commented: “Orange currently offers 3G coverage to over 93% of the UK population alongside more than 99% population coverage on our 2G network to provide the UK’s largest integrated data network. We continue to spend more than £1 million per day on growing and developing our network to ensure our customers can make calls, email and browse the internet whenever and wherever they want.”

Based on analysis set out in the consultation, Ofcom does not propose to undertake a wider formal market review of the mobile sector. Ofcom will continue to promote and safeguard competition in the mobile sector as the industry changes and innovative technology develops by: monitoring competition between mobile networks to ensure consumers are protected; and maximising consumer benefits from any possible new entrants to the mobile market by ensuring that innovation continues to flourish.

In support of this policy, on 20 May 2009 Ofcom published a review of mobile termination rates – the wholesale charges that operators make to connect calls to each others’ networks – and how they should be set after 2011 when the current charging regime expires.

Ofcom will continue to ensure that consumers are getting the best choice and value for money whilst protecting them in an increasingly diverse mobile market by: continuing to take swift and firm action against companies misselling to consumers; and continuing to engage with disability groups and mobile operators to further investigate ways to tackle barriers to access and enable use of mobile services by people with disabilities.

Commenting on Ofcom’s assessment of the mobile phone sector, Audrey Gallacher, telecoms expert at Consumer Focus, said: “Ofcom’s continued scrutiny of the mobile sector is welcome. Against the backdrop of an increasing shift from fixed to mobile communications technology, this valuable report sheds light on where the sector is working properly, as well as where it is failing to serve the needs of consumers.

“While Ofcom reports broadly high levels of consumer satisfaction in the mobiles sector, Consumer Focus is keen to ensure that new and emerging areas of consumer detriment in the mobiles sector are addressed quickly and effectively, continued Gallacher. “Some consumers find themselves excluded from mobile communications due to gaps in 3G coverage or the market’s failure to make new technology accessible to all. Accessing the best deal in a market where mobile operators offer a bewildering array of over 200,000 different tariffs is a real challenge.

“With mobiles now treated as an essential service rather than a luxury, there is more pressure than ever before on mobile companies to give consumers a fair deal and make mobile services accessible to all,” Gallacher added.

The 3G mobile coverage maps can be found at:
www.ofcom.org.uk/radiocomms/ifi/licensing/classes/broadband/cellular/3g/maps/3gmaps/

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