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Ofcom gives shonky Sitefinder Google Maps boost

T-Mobe and Orange still won't play, so inaccuracies multiply

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Ofcom has finally overhauled its Sitefinder database, overlaying the data on Google Maps and saving a fortune - though that data is getting less complete and more inaccurate every day.

The new version of Sitefinder was launched last week, proving a welcome relief from its previous archaic interface which some suspected was designed to discourage use.

Ofcom tells us that the integration with Google Maps has saved it a fortune, which makes it all the more remarkable the upgrade didn't even warrant a press release. Perhaps the regulator didn't want anyone to be reminded that the cell site data for T-Mobile and Orange is getting steadily more out of date.

That's because T-Mobile hasn't been providing any base station locations to Ofcom since 2005, and since last year's merger Orange has joined the boycott in refusing to supply information despite (or because of) the regulator's obligation to tell us about it. Given that Three shares that network it's hard to tell where it stands*, so it's only the data from O2 and Vodafone that can be trusted no matter how prettily it's displayed.

The boycott is justified on the grounds that Ofcom might lose its long-running appeal against the Information Commissioner's decision that it should share site locations in a machine-readable form (as a single database).

Back in 2007 T-Mobile argued that such a database would be invaluable to the competition, but then admitted that it hadn't itself bothered investing the thousand man hours that would be required to compile the data from existing sources. So Ofcom tried arguing that the database would be too useful to thieves and/or terrorists, a point now undermined by the fact they still appear in local planning documents - not to mention lack of endemic thefts/explosions from O2 and Vodafone sites that are still listed.

Even more inventive was the argument that given photons' lack of mass they can't be considered "emissions", and therefore have no need to be registered.

Basically the network operators will do anything they can to avoid handing over the data, which is still voluntary despite being recommended by the Stewart Report in 2000. That report argued that public disclosure was essential to allay health fears surrounding mobile phone usage.

So while O2, Vodafone and Three (and Airwave and Network Rail) provide three-monthly updates to the sitefinder database, Everything Everywhere steadfastly refuses to do so. So while it's good news that Ofcom is saving a fortune by using Google Maps to display site information, it would be much better news if that site information wasn't getting less accurate every day. ®

* Three has been in touch to tell us it always keeps Sitefinder updated, so any sites it shares with Everything Everywhere will be shown, though only Three's emissions will listed in the details.

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