English countryside: unspoilt by both mobile masts and mobile conversations

via Flickr © Alison Christine (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Alison Christine (CC BY 2.0)

I may have mentioned the lamentable performance I experience with my Vodafone UK iPhone before. Yes, ranted is a good word. I live in Cambridgeshire. It’s sort of rural but it’s not as rural as Idaho.  It’s not even as rural as Norfolk. But it is very flat so no terrain excuses are available. 

And I do actually remember the last time I saw the little 3G sign on my phone:  it was when i was right out in the middle of a huge, flat meadow. The ‘3G’ popped up fleetingly before being replaced by GPRS. 

Yep, good old (slow) GPRS. Thank god for WiFi.

I’m not alone. Ofcom, the UK’s regulator has recently had some research conducted to discover that large numbers of UK users are having similar problems, especially in rural areas where - stand-out finding - one in five calls made by Vodafone customers fail, it says. My colleague, Martyn Warwick, says he has to lean out of his bathroom window and hold a coat-hanger between his teeth to maintain his Vodafone calls. 

I haven’t noticed the calls problem - just the appalling data services - but I wonder if that’s a sign of the times and the reason there’s not more outrage (except when an Ofcom questionnaire hoves into view).  We just don’t talk any more - at least not so much when away from our homes or offices.  For one thing we’re not allowed to: just try picking up your phone when driving and see how many seconds elapse before you’re pulled over by the police.  Talking or texting on the phone while driving has, quite rightly, become almost as heinous a crime as drink-driving (God knows how many years drinking, driving AND phoning would get you).  And talking loudly on the phone in public (and if it’s a Vodafone connection it has to be loudly) is no longer acceptable, if it ever was.  

So no wonder I haven’t noticed dropped calls on my phone away from home or office -  I don’t make many.  What I like to do, though, is take pictures and send them with captions to friends and family - but on GPRS that’s out of the question. I have to wait until I’m home with my trusty WiFi. 

And it’s not just Vodafone (although it’s the worst offender). All rural users report only 85 per cent of their calls are problem free and all the operators fall short to a degree: so Vodafone’s rural area call completion is 79.99 per cent; 3 hits  86% in rural and EE a stellar 93.7 per cent.  EE was also top in the cities with  97.5 per cent of calls OK and Vodafone was again bottom with 4.7  per cent of calls across its network failing. 

Surprising then that  Ofcom found that a full 76 per cent of UK mobile network users report themselves ‘happy’  with their service. This drops to two thirds in rural areas. 

Perhaps if your expectations are low enough, honed by years of over-promising and under-performing mobile services, it might be that you could suffer 20 per cent call failure and still be happy with your service... maybe. 

After all Ofcom’s own requirements are low enough - 3G licence holders have only to meet 90 per cent geographical coverage for a start. 

So what measures are going to be taken to bring the rural areas up to scratch?  Well none, really, apart from a periodical survey. an exhortation or two and a reminder that users can and should change services to push the beggars to perform. 


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