A LEADING consumer group has demanded that the millions of people without 2G mobile phone signal are tended to before existing connections are upgraded to faster 4G speeds.
Ofcom has been told by MPs that it needs to increase 4G mobile coverage to 98% to prepare for the upcoming radio spectrum auction, due to be held next year.
But the Communications Consumer Panel (CCP) claims that the auction should be used as an opportunity to upgrade the remainder of the network rather than focusing on faster networks for those who already have a connection.
Lack of 2G connections
The Panel states that regulator Ofcom is responsible for extending data services to more rural areas before it carries out any infrastructure upgrade to urban areas.
It claims that the funds raised by selling airwaves in next year's radio spectrum auction should be used to ensure that every UK area has some access to a mobile voice or data connection.
The industry watchdog also estimates that up to three million UK residents live in a mobile 'not-spot' - meaning that they are without even a 2G connection.
Although the next-generation 4G connection will provide smartphone users with crucial faster speeds, it seems unfair when a large portion of the population have no connection whatsoever.
Not-spots around the UK
CCP chair Bob Warner said, "Most places that were mobile coverage notspots 10 years ago are still notspots today and the spectrum auction represents perhaps the only chance we have in the next decade to improve coverage in the nations and for rural communities."
The cost of achieving 98% mobile coverage throughout the country would be approximately £250m, which is substantial but only a small percentage of the amount expected to be generated by the auction.
The target for coverage currently stands at 95% by 2017, meaning that millions of people could be left waiting for some form of mobile coverage for at least another 5 years.
It is thought that one of the major notspots for mobile coverage in the country is on the rail networks, with research from Ofcom suggesting that there was only a 10% chance of maintaining a 15 minute mobile phone call on the East Coast mainline.
4G will not resolve coverage problems
The CCP does not have a problem with achieving 98% 4G coverage, but it believes that it is nearly impossible as the networks have built as many 2G and 3G masts as possible. Therefore, if the infrastructure were to be upgraded to 4G, those people with poor signal now would still have no mobile coverage.
The radio spectrum auction is due to take place at some point in the first six months of 2012, and will be the largest ever as it will see the release of 80% more than what was released in 2000.The 4G services are then expected to roll out in 2013.
Should the money raised from the auction not be ploughed back into the mobile networks, it will be a significant windfall for the Treasury.
And Ofcom will have a challenge trying to prize cash from the purse once they have their hands on it.
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