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4G or not 4G? Watch as our reporters go in search of mobile phone signal across Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 12:10 02 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:10 02 November 2017

Dominic Gilbert, left, and Tom Bristow, who went on a tour to survey 4G signal availability around Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Dominic Gilbert, left, and Tom Bristow, who went on a tour to survey 4G signal availability around Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2017

You should be able to get 4G on your mobile phone outdoors almost everywhere in Norfolk, according to a map from regulator Ofcom. TOM BRISTOW and DOMINIC GILBERT put it to the test.

Ofcom map showing 4G coverage in Norfolk outdoors. Image: Ofcom Ofcom map showing 4G coverage in Norfolk outdoors. Image: Ofcom

The deadline is dawning for phone companies to improve signal coverage across the UK - and address one of the biggest causes of complaints we hear from readers.

Our survey of 1,300 readers in October last year showed poor coverage had caused 86pc of people problems, with 40pc rating their coverage as one out of 10.

Since then more phone masts have been built in Norfolk and Suffolk and 4G signal, which allows users to use the internet on their phones, is improving.

A map of 4G coverage on the website of watchdog Ofcom, compiled with data from phone companies and the regulator, shows around 90pc of Norfolk and Waveney should get coverage outdoors. But coverage is much patchier indoors.

Ofcom map showing 4G coverage in Norfolk indoors where signal is much more patchy. Image: Ofcom Ofcom map showing 4G coverage in Norfolk indoors where signal is much more patchy. Image: Ofcom

By the end of this year network O2 has to cover 98pc of properties with 4G coverage indoors.

A spokesman for the watchdog said that they could take enforcement action if targets are not met.

But our research shows problems persists.

We drove two triangular tours of Norfolk, one north and one south, to test 4G strength.

Dominic Gilbert, left, and Tom Bristow, who went on a tour to survey 4G signal availability around Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY Dominic Gilbert, left, and Tom Bristow, who went on a tour to survey 4G signal availability around Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Heading out of Norwich north up the A140, 4G signal is strong, as per Ofcom’s map, all the way to Aylsham.

Becky Johnson, 20, who works at William H Brown estate agents in the town, said: “4G has improved recently. EE are the best network for this area. It is really good coverage in Aylsham but patchy in local villages. Our clients ask about it all the time.”

But Jason Gibbons from Coxfords Butchers in the market place said: “I’m on EE and it’s not very good here at all. 4G is the worst.”

Leaving Aylsham, signal goes as we continue north up the A140 to Cromer.

4G and phone signal coverage is getting better in some areas, but other parts of the region have been left behind. 
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY 4G and phone signal coverage is getting better in some areas, but other parts of the region have been left behind. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

But once at the seaside resort our 4G with Vodafone returns.

On a wet and windy Cromer Pier Aaron and Melissa Luccarini, who are visiting the Norfolk coast from Haverhill, are less impressed. Their 4G coverage with EE has abandoned them in Norfolk.

“It is a massive difference to Haverhill,” Mr Luccarini said.

Naomi Bushell, team manager at the box office on Cromer Pier, said she tends to get signal on EE but very little on Vodafone. “Sometimes I don’t get any signal at all. 4G comes in and out,” she said.

Some areas of Norfolk and Suffolk (in red) still do not get any phone signal, according to this map from regulator Ofcom. Image: Ofcom Some areas of Norfolk and Suffolk (in red) still do not get any phone signal, according to this map from regulator Ofcom. Image: Ofcom

The signal on our phone stays strong in Cromer but it is a different story once we leave the town.

Somewhere between East Runton and Sheringham 4G disappears followed by 3G - and it doesn’t come back once we arrive in Sheringham.

We drive come on to the A148, heading for Holt and there is still no 4G. The search continues in vain in Holt.

“There’s no 4G or 3G here,” said Will Crookes, manager at the Digital Phone Company in the Market Place.

Dominic Gilbert, left, and Tom Bristow, who went on a tour to survey 4G signal availability around Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY Dominic Gilbert, left, and Tom Bristow, who went on a tour to survey 4G signal availability around Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

But that will change in the future. A new phone mast was given planning permission at the rugby club in June.

From Holt we continue down the A148 through Letheringsett, Little Snoring and are still without 4G.

According to our Ofcom map this area is all covered by 4G outdoors but not indoors.

When we get to Fakenham, we have travelled 25 miles since Cromer and finally emerge from the 4G abyss.

Signal is strong everywhere we go in the town.

Darren Warren, director of sales at Fine and Country’s Fakenham office is on network Three. He gets a couple of bars in the town but spends much of his time in rural north Norfolk. “It’s frustrating. When I leave town it goes.” he said.

There is still much improvement needed in Norfolk. But communities are not always getting the masts they need.

In New Buckenham, for example, a coverage “not spot”, an application for a mast was rejected earlier this year amid concerns from Historic England and some people living in the village about its visual impact.

Nova Fairbank, from the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “The present mobile coverage maps show that there is still a big difference between coverage levels when using a mobile phone indoors and outdoors – by definition a mobile should be just that – mobile.”

A survey from the Chamber earlier this year showed 43pc of their members in Norfolk had access to 4G.

An Ofcom spokesman said: “We agree mobile coverage must improve. Our rules mean virtually all UK premises must receive a 4G signal by the end of this year.”

‘Not-spots’ in Loddon and Diss

Anyone who has tried checking emails on the train between Norwich and Diss will know signal is patchy in the south of the county.

According to a map from regulator Ofcom, south Norfolk should be well covered when it comes to 4G outdoors on all networks.

But when it comes to indoors - sitting at home or in a car or train - it is a different story.

Huge patches of the county around Loddon, Diss and Harleston are 4G free.

Driving along the A-roads of south Norfolk 4G coverage stayed strong on our mobile with Vodafone.

But it struggled coming into towns and villages, particularly in Loddon, where all mobile internet signal disappears.

4G coverage there, according to Maisie McEntee of the Spooncake cafe, is “non-existent”.

“In this part of Loddon, especially at the bottom of the hill, there is just no signal,” she said.

Tom Rowson,of Loddon Garden & DIY, agrees.

“It’s pretty horrendous to be honest,” he said. “4G doesn’t exist. “To make calls I have to stand on a very tall wall at the back and wave the phone around. It’s a very occasional sweet spot and it is not guaranteed. I’ve given up on any sort of G.

“I think people seem to have accepted it.”

Further south in Bungay, despite better 4G coverage, “not-spots” still remain.

Ben Jones, of the Fisher Theatre in Bungay, said: “People have to go outside the building and stand in the middle of the road to get any kind of signal.

There are a lot of black spots around Bungay, particularly in Earsham. Because it is an outskirt town, the general signal for everything is quite poor.”

Heading west, coverage is excellent along the A143, until hitting the A1066. Past that and towards the centre of Diss, 4G and 3G vanish.

Tim Sterling, 55, works in Diss but lives in Brockdish. Originally from Northern Ireland, he described coverage in Norfolk as “third world”.

“Where we are there is no signal,” he said. “If we have visitors they have to sign in to Whatsapp through the wifi. It is frustrating for people.

“In comparison to Northern Ireland it is third world out here.”

What our readers say

Readers on our Facebook page have been discussing 4G and phone coverage where they live.

Richard Allen: “I live in Asia and travel in fairly undeveloped places like Indonesia – but the coverage in Norfolk (and Cornwall) is appalling. I don’t understand why the regulator allows the networks to get away with such poor coverage in places like Norfolk. Good mobile data coverage is so fundamental to the mobile economy.”

Alice Cattermole: “Nothing in New Buckenham, let alone 4G! And a recent planning app for a mobile mast on the village hall playing field was refused, meaning we are no closer to solving this problem. The impact is huge for people who run small businesses or work from home.”

Sue Hardy: “Don’t really care about 4G, I just want to have a reliable mobile signal. I live in a country lane near Wingfield in Suffolk and many times I go to send a text and it won’t go as I’ve no signal. I go down to Harleston just 3 miles away and loads of texts that have been sitting in the ether somewhere start pinging onto my phone.”

Check the coverage in your area here.

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