Mobile networks dismiss UK government's 'national roaming' plan

While those in larger towns and cities generally enjoy decent mobile network coverage, it can often be hard to find a signal in more sparsely populated areas. In many rural parts, just one or two operators have cell towers and masts installed, leaving those on other networks out of luck. 

Despite its relatively small size, there are many parts of the United Kingdom that still suffer from limited network coverage, and the UK government is exploring ways to improve this as mobile usage continues to grow. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) - which is responsible for overseeing communications industries in the UK - believes that one option would be to implement a 'national roaming' scheme, but mobile operators have been quick to dismiss the idea as unfeasible. 

Under the proposal, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said that operators should allow users to switch to rival networks when they cannot get a signal from their own carrier, in much the same way that they would while travelling abroad. But the UK's Mobile Operator Association (MOA) - representing major networks EE, Three, Vodafone and O2 - said that the plans were 'far-fetched and unworkable', according to V3

"National roaming isn't the silver bullet that is being suggested," the MOA said in a statement. "It will take years to implement and will not address the problem of notspots [areas with limited or zero network coverage]. National roaming would be a disincentive to build more infrastructure. And it is technically difficult and expensive to set up national roaming, and customers would face more dropped calls." 

The organisation instead believes that the government needs to do more to support network operators to expand their infrastructure into rural areas. The government has already dedicated £150m to this, and the DCMS has said it is considering further support. 

According to the MOA, carriers are "investing £3bn in improving their UK networks this year. 4G will also improve mobile broadband coverage in rural areas." It also said that "there is good mobile coverage across the UK, reaching 99 percent of the population. And UK consumers enjoy one of the cheapest telecoms pricing environments in the EU." 

While carriers remain resistant to the idea of the 'national roaming' plan, one mobile industry source told BBC News that the government could still force them to implement the proposal under current legislation. 

Source: V3 | GSM transmitter image via Shutterstock

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