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Ofcom checks up on mobile coverage

Smartphones = crap at making calls

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According to Ofcom's latest intervention in the sticky world of mobile phone operators, coverage checkers are generally fairly accurate but the regulator would like to see integrated mapping and point-of-sale checks.

It seems that only 30 per cent of us even know that coverage maps exist, with the rest still trusting to luck that their new network will connect them. That said, at least the data seems to be accurate, with Ofcom's testing of signal strength around Devon (pdf, surprisingly dull) matching the operator predictions to an acceptable level.

Coverage maps are based on mathematical models of radio propagation, or educated guesses as they're otherwise known. But it seems that operators have got quite good at guessing, as Ofcom reports its testing of both indoor and outdoor coverage gave figures close to the predictions.

Not that all operators provide indoor predictions - Everything Everywhere's service (provided by Orange and T-Mobile) only tells people what to expect while hanging around outside, and Ofcom reckons that's not fair as it makes direct comparisons between networks more difficult.

The regulator would also like to see aggregated maps, showing the coverage offered by all the operators in a specific area. Network operators are unlikely to offer such a thing but Ofcom (perhaps optimistically) wants to "encourage mobile operators to explore options to work with third parties to make their coverage information more comparable and widely available to consumers".

Everything Everywhere is still refusing to tell the regulator's SiteFinder service where its cell towers are, fighting in the European courts to keep the information from the public in a battle the other operators are watching with interest. Expecting operators to hand coverage data over to a third party seems optimistic, but perhaps we're too cynical.

More likely to be realised is Ofcom's suggestion that all the operators offer coverage checking at the point of sale, both to ensure customers are happy when they get home and to educate them about the existence of the service.

Ofcom also made a brief attempt at comparing handsets and discovered that basic phones generally got a better signal than smartphones. The regulator suggests that this might be down to the smartphone looking for a 3G connection, or using a more compact antenna. As 4G services come on line both those problems could be compounded; but at least the operators will be there to tell us where we can expect to lose our connections.

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