Calls to tackle poor mobile phone coverage in Norfolk’s rural areas
09:51 14 August 2014
Mobile phone company bosses are to be sent a clear signal by Norfolk councillors - it is time to invest in the county’s coverage to boost business and tourism.
Mobile phone signal is patchy across the whole of north Norfolk with “blackspots” along parts of the coast.
Blakeney, Cley and Salthouse has no signal for the majority of phone networks and there are also service problems in Overstrand and Itteringham near the Blickling Estate.
Jono Read, a campaigner for better Vodafone signal in north Norfolk, said: “There is not one network that covers the whole of north Norfolk.
“The government has to do more in terms of investment. Sharing of technology could be done on a larger scale.”
Sheringham has had Vodafone service problems in the past.
As a new report by watchdogs Ofcom revealed how rural areas are still getting a raw deal when it comes to coverage, Norfolk County councillors are to meet representatives of Vodafone to call for cash to be spent in the county.
Vodafone, according to official figures compiled by the telecoms regulator, provided the poorest service in rural areas, with one in five calls on their network failing.
Ofcom used data from RootMetrics, a company that measures network performance on mobile handsets, to better understand consumers’ experience of making phone calls on EE, O2, Three and Vodafone networks.
According to that data, 97% of calls on the EE network were successfully connected, 95.3% on O2, 94.5% on Three and 92.6% on Vodafone during the second half of 2013.
In rural areas, 93.7% of EE calls connected, 87.4% on O2, 86% on Three and 79.9% on Vodafone.
While Vodafone said those figures were now out of date, a group of county councillors will next month be challenging them to do more to boost coverage in Norfolk.
The company has launched a national programme giving up to 100 rural communities the chance to get Open Sure Signal technology in their villages and hamlets as part of a £1bn investment in its network.
The south Norfolk area is considered to be one of the worst for mobile phone coverage despite being sandwiched between two major telcommunication masts at Mendlesham and Tacolneston.
The signal is particularly bad in lower lying areas of Diss, where it can be obstructed by buildings and trees, while quality is also poor around Eye airfield.
Concert goers and visitors to Thetford forest also find that they have to grapple with a loss of signal, as there is virtually no coverage in amongst the trees.
Even in Roydon, which is on relatively high ground on the outskirts of Diss, the signal can be erratic and it seems the best place in the area to get a signal is west of the town between Roydon and Thetford.
And a group of county councillors, who formed a working party to look at the problems with mobile coverage in Norfolk, will meet Vodafone representatives on September 1 to make the case that the technology should come to the county.
Dr Marie Strong, chairman of the council’s broadband, mobile and digital working group and county councillor for Wells, said: “Good mobile phone coverage makes a tremendous difference - to tourism and to business.
“I had a visitor to Wells who was waving her phone around on the quayside trying to get a signal and when I asked her about it, she said she had been on holiday to the Suez Canal the previous week and had a perfect signal, but couldn’t get one in Wells. That just shows the problems faced.
“For smaller businesses, good mobile phone coverage is as important to them as good broadband.”
Dr Strong, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at County Hall, added the working group intended to make a solid case to Vodafone that Norfolk deserved further investment. She urged communities to apply to the scheme.
On the figures released by Ofcom, a spokesman for Vodafone, said: “Regular independent testing of our network shows that we’re market leader for call set up and we’re one of the best for call continuity.
“Vodafone UK continues to invest heavily in its network and services, and we’re spending £1bn alone this year to improve mobile coverage and quality.
“The previously published RootMetrics’ report is based on old network measurements taken between June and December last year, which were disproved by more up-to-date findings in spring 2014.”
The county council. which has already pledged to match-fund a project to bring superfast broadband to Norfolk. is still hoping to benefit from a share of a £150m funding pot to improve mobile phone coverage.
The government’s Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) has earmarked the money to improve mobile network services across the whole of the UK in areas defined as “complete not spots”, where mobile signals currently do not exist.
Funds have already been confirmed through the MIP scheme for improving the mobile signal along the A143 corridor, between Great Yarmouth and Haverhill.
Last year, members of Norfolk County Council agreed to lobby the government and MPs to prioritise the ‘not spots’ in the county’s mobile phone coverage.
Twelve new clusters of Norfolk ‘not spots’ were identified this year, but the county council has not revealed where they are because their locations were shared with the authority under a non-disclosure agreement.
In June, the government unveiled plans to force operators to share their networks for users in the UK.
That scheme won support from prime minister David Cameron, who reportedly became frustrated after repeatedly losing a signal during a visit to Norfolk.
Norfolk was one of three counties officials focused on when investigating the policy earlier this year, along with Shropshire and Dorset.
The EDP last year launched its Let’s Get Connected campaign to highlight the need for improvements to mobile phone coverage in Norfolk.
Coverage is poor in parts of West Norfolk and temperamental in others.
Presumably the Queen and members of the Royal Family do not tend to use their mobiles much when they’re in Norfolk, as Sandringham is one of the patchier areas.
Reception can be reasonable in King’s Lynn – with even 3G most of the time. Along the nearby coastline, you phone might say it’s got three or four bars of signal, but when you go to make a call, it fails.
Perhaps it’s because the network is over-subscribed in summer, when tens of thousands of extra thumbs are texting and updating their status on their hols.
Waveney MP Peter Aldous has said mobile coverage is very poor in certain rural parts of his constituency, which covers Lowestoft and the towns of Bungay and Beccles.
He said the main patch with signal problems was the St James South Elmham and Ilketshall St Lawrence area and there were some difficulties around Barnby and North Cove.
Mr Aldous said: “It is very bad in pockets.”
Mr Aldous and Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey have supported a government proposal for mobile phone companies to share masts for roaming to improve coverage in the region.
• What do you think of mobile phone coverage where you live? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.