National roaming plans under consideration for across the UK

Out-Law News | 25 Jun 2014 | 4:41 pm | 1 min. read

Mobile phone network operators could be required to allow the customers of rivals to access their networks under plans being considered to improve connectivity in rural areas of the UK.

According to a BBC report, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid is pushing mobile operators to facilitate 'national roaming' so mobile users can access services across alternative networks where their own network's coverage is lacking.

Prime minister David Cameron is also behind the initiative after complaining about patchy network coverage during a holiday to Cornwall last year.

"This is a really big issue for people all over the country - the ‘not-spots’," prime minister David Cameron said, according to a report by local news publication Western Morning News. "It’s not good enough to say here’s the mobile coverage for the whole country. You have got to recognise a lot of people are making important calls while they are on the move. We do need to improve the coverage of the mobile phone signal."

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that the government has already invested in improving mobile coverage across the whole of the UK.

"The government has made clear it wants to ensure the UK has world-class mobile phone coverage as part of our investment in infrastructure for the long term economic plan," the spokesperson said. "We are investing up to £150 million to improve mobile coverage in areas where there is currently no coverage from any of the mobile network operators (MNOs). Of course we want to look at what more can be done in areas with poor coverage."

The Mobile Operators Association (MOA), which represents EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone, told Out-Law.com that the companies were investing £3 billion each year in improving their networks and that coverage reaches 99% of the UK population. It said mobile broadband coverage would also improve in rural areas as 4G technology is rolled out.

The MOA said that the implementation of a national roaming scheme would not address all connectivity problems and may threaten investment in better network infrastructure.

"National roaming isn’t the silver bullet that is being suggested," the MOA said. "It will take years to implement and will not address the problem of ‘not spots’. National roaming would be a disincentive to build more infrastructure. And it is technically difficult and expensive to set up national roaming and customers would face more dropped calls."

"There are other, more sensible things the government can do immediately to improve coverage, such as reforming the Electronic Communications Code, and addressing other barriers like the burden of business rates in rural areas, the cost of backhaul and electricity. In the last three years operators have seen a return on capital investment of between 1-2%, considerably less than other UK companies," the MOA said.