Before we start worrying about faster 3G speeds can we sort out basic mobile signals?

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So small but so important!

As I mentioned in my last blog post I have had a very relaxing weekend under canvas in Derbyshire this last weekend. The Derbyshire Dales are truly breathtaking at any time – but particularly at the moment with all the new growth and wild flowers. So a quiet time was had – but quieter than I expected due to the almost total lack of a phone signal.

I am happy to accept that a National park does not want phone masts all over its hills, but we are not talking a partial lack of signal here, I was without a signal for the majority of the two days, despite moving around a lot (including in a car along main roads – so not all in river valleys!) I am also on a network that apparently claims to have the best UK coverage – Vodafone. Now if this is the case perhaps they could explain to me why my wife had a full signal – including 3G for almost the entire weekend? Her network? – Virgin Mobile who are not exactly a ‘big hitter’ like Vodafone!

I have commented before about exactly the same issue at my Mothers home town of Malmesbury in Wiltshire. It is only a few miles from the M4 and sits mid way between Bristol and Swindon, but the Vodafone signal is appalling! And guess what – my wife gets a full 3G signal there as well!

So my request to Vodafone is simple, stop claiming to have the best coverage – you don’t, by a long way. As far as I can see the other networks nearly all trounce you in most areas. So rather than spending a fortune pushing out 4G to everyone in the big cities how about a thought for your rural customers, what about giving them a decent service as well?

Mobile Internet – the future?

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A common sight now

This won’t come as a surprise to most people – according to the Office for National Statistics almost half of UK internet users are going online via mobile phone data connections. This shows a significant growth since 2010 – 45% of people surveyed said they made use of the net while out and about, compared with 31% in 2010.

Unsurprisingly the most rapid growth is among younger people, where 71% of internet-connected 16 to 24-year-olds used mobiles to go online. This survey also includes wireless dongles but I am guessing that the major growth is in smartphones – everyone now appears to have them!

However domestic internet use has also risen with 77% of households now having access to a net connection. This figure is up 4% from the previous year, representing the slowest rate of growth since the ONS survey began in 2006.

Among the 23% of the population who remain offline, half said they “didn’t need the internet.” One imagines this sector of the market is unlikely to make the move soon! These older users, who the government is particularly keen to get connected, appeared to have been relatively untouched by the phenomenon, just 8% of internet users aged over 65 made use of the newer technology.

This is particularly interesting I believe to my generation who grew up being told we would in the future have these abilities – it has taken a while but now we have them. It is something that our kids take for granted, but I am still impressed when I can surf from anywhere on my iPhone (assuming there is a signal)!

Network coverage – finally some truth?

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The sample map

I have blogged before about my ‘issues’ with regards to 3G coverage in the UK. The phone companies would all like our business so all claim to provide good coverage for smartphone users. My personal experience suggests that no one carrier is massively different to another – all of them are sadly lacking, particularly in the more rural parts of the UK.

The BBC have recently carried out an extremely interesting experiment to show what 3G coverage really is like across the country. They commissioned an app for Android phones that once installed provided information back to a central database of signal strength across the UK. The results are now in and available on an interactive map, and certainly to me look pretty accurate! If I check my home and my mother’s home postcodes the signal strength reported certainly reflects my experiences. It is reported that those testers able to receive a data connection only got a 3G signal 75% of the time.

More importantly it is generally less coverage than is shown on the networks own maps! Have a look for yourself, the link below takes you to the relevant webpage into which you can enter your postcodes – you may be surprised by what you find.


About the map;
1. 42 million locations have been recorded
2. White space represents areas where no tests were conducted
3. Each tile represents a maximum area of approximately 200m x 200m
4. A green tile means that handsets spent most of their time on 3G in that area
5. A purple tile means handsets spent most of their time on 2G

As usual the network operators are staying quiet, isn’t it about time that they came clean and admitted that their coverage is nowhere as good as it should be?

Vodafone 12 months in

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I realised this weekend that we have been with Vodofone at work now for almost 12 months. We had been with O2 (since the launch of the iPhone in the UK) and the move to Vodafone was on the back of a great deal (they wanted us) and the promise of much better coverage of the UK.

So, how has the first 12 months been?

My great hope was that Vodafones ‘famed’ coverage would be much better than O2’s. Unfortunately I have to report that I have actually been very unimpressed! In my view it is not any better than O2, and in many cases is worse!

At home on O2 I had a fantastic 3G conection – on Vodafone its poor, GPRS at the best (luckily I have a wireless router so can use my excellent Virgin broadband connection).

Out and about it is possible that the basic phone coverage (for voice) is slightly better. But 3G coverage is not, and in some cases it is worse than their competitors! As an example when I visit my Mother in Malmesbury in Wiltshire my iPhone on Vodafone is GPRS only, my wife is on Virgin (who I believe use T Mobiles masts), she gets a full 3G signal!

So thats a fail for signal on Vodafone. What about customer service?

On O2 we had an account manager (as we do on Vodafone), he was always easy to get hold of (even when away on maternity leave!), any request was quickly and efficiently dealt with (we have 35 iPhones so often have issues).

Our Vodafone account manager models himself on the Scarlet Pimpernel! He is difficult to raise and when you do finally get hold of him he passes you onto someone else – he was much more attentive when trying to get us away from O2!

So my overall impression after 12 months with Vodafone? Could do better! (and the grass is not always greener on the other side!)

Is 3G data about to reach capacity?

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A sign of things to come?

So, the smart phone and tablet  is becoming very popular and is likely to be one of this Christmas’s big sellers – this means that 3G networks around the world will be heavily tested by an onslaught of data-hungry smartphones from the start of 2011 says a report on the Top Ten Wireless Predictions for 2011.

So what is the new year likely to bring, and just what are the networks going to do about it?

Top Ten Wireless Predictions 2011:

1. Surging Mobile Data Traffic
2. Augmented Reality to Enhance Mobile Games and Retail
3. Cloud-Based Operating Systems are Launched
4. Mobile Banking will become a “must-have” when opening a new account
5. Mobile Devices Begin to Replace Credit Cards
6. Mobile Handsets Become Even More Sensitive
7. Mobile Lottery Tickets Sales to Soar Fuelled by Deployments in US, Europe, and China
8. Mobile-Specific Threats Lead to Demand for Mobile-Specific Security
9. Buyouts take Social Purchasing to a New Level
10. More Vendors Develop a “GreenHeart”

Network operators have already started to combat the “consumer smart phone boom” by putting in place tiered data pricing and phasing out unlimited data plans, but these measures may not be enough to ease the pressure on the already congested networks. Tiered pricing (and the use of WiFi as capacity relief) may serve to alleviate the problem to a certain extent, but until we see mass deployments of much faster LTE networks (and, equally important, devices that are LTE-capable), then operators face a nervous period of attempting to manage the transition.

We have also seen in 2009 and 2010 mobile application developers embrace Augmented Reality (AR) using it to enhance local search and reference. Next year consumers can expect to see an influx of AR applications produced by the retail industry – locations and products will be geotagged with brand-specific information and consumers might even get to try on virtual clothes before buying them online. Game developers will also jump on the AR trend in 2011.

Mobile phone payment systems will start being adopted by mainstream users within the next year as handsets that support the technology arrive in the market. On December 5 Google unveiled its forthcoming Nexus S smart phone with integrated NFC (Near Field Communication) for mobile payment. Apple is largely rumored to be investigating mobile payment systems too for its next generation iPhone.

Additional predictions for the wireless industry in 2011 include the launch of cloud-based operating systems and mobile handsets that are equipped with enhanced sensitivity.

On a down side it is also predicted that next year will see mobile devices targeted with malicious threats resulting in the need for mobile-specific security.

The market is about to become a victim of its own success – it only feels like yesterday that the delay of text messages at New Year were annoying – how things change, lets just hope that the industry is up to the challenge!

Highest 3G signal in the World!

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Ok, so this is a slightly weird one – Mount Everest now has 3G!

A private telecommunications company has announced 3G services are now available at the Mount Everest base-camp located at 17,388ft. To celebrate the establishment of the service the providers made the highest recorded video call.

No escape from email here either now!

Until now, climbers have had to depend on expensive satellite phones to remain in touch with their families and expedition officials. The new service will provide fast surfing on the web, the ability to send video clips and emails, as well as to make calls at far cheaper rates than the average satellite phone. It will be ideal for climbers updating blogs and online journals about their climb.

The services available to trekkers and climbers will be better than that enjoyed by many ordinary people in Nepal, a country which suffers from widespread poverty and for which trekking and tourism is a key source of foreign revenues. Currently only around a third of the population have access to modern telecommunications.

What is not yet clear is whether the service will reach the summit of Everest, situated at 29,029ft. The company claims the signal will reach that high, though it admitted that it has has not yet been tested. Climbers who have reached the top have previously depended on either satellite phones or a voice-only network set up by China Mobile in 2007 on the Chinese side of the mountain. So the big question is, will there be a rush now to have the record for the highest call by the next team up to the summit?

cleverly, four of the eight base stations are being operated using solar power. There are back-up batteries that can power them for around three days if the solar energy systems do not function for any reason. It’s estimated that the internet and phone services could be used by up to 50 people at a time. While hundreds of people have climbed the mountain, officials say there are several hundred people around the Base Camp area every year.

Climbers have welcomed the service which should provide additional safety for them in their quest.

Mobile access for all?

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In the last two weeks I have become much more aware of the ‘data gap’ between city and country in the UK.

Before Easter I was in France for a week, in a very rural part of the Pas-de-Calais. I had my iPhone with me so was able to keep up to date with my office email etc. At all times I had at least an Edge connection in speed terms for my iPhone (and often 3G), this enabled me to work effectively (and update my blog).

Coming back to the UK my wife drove up the A1 back to Nottingham, so I sat and intended to do some updating to emails etc on my iPhone. unfortunately the signal was very poor (I am on O2) and the best connection I could get was GPRS (read VERY slow for this). I Twittered to this effect as we drove and actually got this reply from Vodafone offering me a better signal if I moved!

Vodafone UK (@VodafoneUKdeals)
04/04/2010 11:49
@Spuddey If you ever fancy comparing our coverage in Lincolnshire here are the maps bit.ly/7YDWuG we’d love to have you onboard ^BH
Sent with Tweetie

Once back in Nottingham all was well again – full 3G and a speedy iPhone.

However, this weekend I am in Malmesbury in rural Wiltshire. I am back to GPRS again (in other words SLOW). I have been trying to sell the idea of iPhones to my brother who lives in Malmesbury as well. But it’s difficult to show it off to it’s best at snail pace – he is unlikely to get one if mobile speeds remain so slow in his area!

But, when I say rural it’s not really! It’s only 5 miles from the M4 and 16 miles from Swindon! If we are really going to all have access to the mobile web (and it is going to become an essential part of life in the next few years) there needs to be some network sharing – can you see this happening? The maps above indicate each networks coverage, you can see that combining them all would give awesome coverage. But still there would be large areas (mainly rural) that have poor coverage.

We all take mobile access for granted in the cities of the UK, as usual there is a sub culture that is ignored – the country. Perhaps this is something that our new Government when voted in (who ever they may be) could try to sort out? We are all being told that we will be able to do so much from our mobile devices in future (including paying for things) but until this issue is sorted out it cannot be all-inclusive!