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‘Useless!’ - how readers rated their mobile phone signal in your part of Norfolk and Waveney

PUBLISHED: 11:31 04 October 2016 | UPDATED: 11:31 04 October 2016

Mobile phone masts on the water tower on Norwich Road, North Walsham.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Mobile phone masts on the water tower on Norwich Road, North Walsham. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

The effect of terrible mobile phone signal on parts of Norfolk and Suffolk is today laid bare through an EDP survey showing hundreds of disconnected families and businesses are unable to even make a call.

The rural swathes of the east have long been known for their poor connectivity - with thousands struggling to secure a strong signal outside of built-up areas.

We asked readers on our website how they would rate their phone signal from one to 10 and more than 1,300 people in Norfolk and Suffolk replied with stories of missed jobs, families unable to make contact with loved ones and days spent without communication.

We found that:

•More than 86pc of people said bad phone signal had caused them problems

•Just under 40pc of respondents gave their phone signal the lowest possible score of one

•Seven percent rated their phone signal one of the top two scores.

But despite the figures, the four largest providers in our survey insisted the area was not being left behind - and promised future investment.

Vodafone, EE, Three and O2 all said they were committed to future upgrades in Norfolk and Suffolk, though Vodafone said that securing permission to build masts, particularly in areas of natural beauty, was hampering efforts to do more.

The promise will come as little reassurance to those who have spent years paying for a service they are unable to fully use.

And we will hand the results of our survey to Ofcom which regulates the mobile phone industry.

More than 86pc of people in the EDP survey of 1,300 readers said bad phone signal had caused them problems. Photo: PAMore than 86pc of people in the EDP survey of 1,300 readers said bad phone signal had caused them problems. Photo: PA

Steven Burbidge lives in Itteringham, a village about five miles outside Aylsham, and one which has been declared a “notspot”.

To get signal, his family must drive out of the River Bure valley to a hill, where they can receive texts and calls.

“Things like online banking are a real problem,” he said. “We have to drive up to the top of the hill to get these texts through that confirm a payment, then get back in time before that expires,” he said.

The village has recently installed a life-saving defibrillator, but Mr Burbidge, 42, said, with the lack of signal, it could prove fruitless in an emergency.

Eamon Campbell, 60, said he has missed out on project work because of the bad phone reception in his village of Lyng in mid Norfolk.

CLA East regional director Ben UnderwoodCLA East regional director Ben Underwood

The accountant relies on an agency to contact him with jobs, but when they can’t get through to him he misses out on the work - and the money.

He said: “I’ve asked them to contact me either on email or the land line but I get sent voicemails on my mobile and I only get them when I leave the village. When I contact them the opportunities are gone.”

Meanwhile, Rob Clews, in Reedham, has been fighting with provider Vodafone to improve his signal since he moved in.

He was told to buy their Sure Signal, which boosts connection through a wifi network.

“It seems unfair that I’m already paying every month to have a service which I’m not able to use,” he said. “It’s not until I drive down the road that my phone starts beeping with the calls and texts that I’ve missed.”

Jon Clemo from Community Action Norfolk.
 Photo: Bill SmithJon Clemo from Community Action Norfolk. Photo: Bill Smith

As a website designer who works from home, Mr Clews, 44, is forced to pay out more to use his landline for work calls.

He said: “I understand that companies won’t build masts here, there and everywhere - and that’s a good thing - but if you don’t live in Norwich or a highly populated area in Norfolk then it is a struggle. It would be nice to be able to make calls.”

But our survey results suggest even parts of Norwich have problems getting a phone signal.

Some of the best results were in built up areas of Norfolk but in the city centre, some respondents gave their phone signal the lowest possible rating.

Low results were found across all parts of the county - with the north Norfolk coast, parts of south Norfolk and Broads communities in particular seeing low numbers.

Jonathan Clemo, chief executive at charity Community Action Norfolk, said having a strong mobile phone signal was often seen as more important than reliable broadband, another well-known problem in the area.

“There are more and more people and businesses who rely on mobile phone technology,” he said. “Particularly in rural areas, where they might need to simply be able to take a call, but are struggling to achieve it.

“It seems that despite the tools being there, the rural area lags behind in terms of infrastructure - and we miss out on our potential.”

He said the problem stretched from business owners to older people and said there should not be a “trade-off” of being connected for living somewhere rural.

Ben Underwood, east regional director for the Country, Land and Business Association, which represents the area’s many landowners and rural businesses, agreed the region’s potential was being “stifled” by bad connection.

“Mobile devices are a vital part of modern life, and can transform the opportunities for people who live and work in Norfolk and across the eastern region,” he said. “Unfortunately, that potential continues to be stifled because of poor and inconsistent coverage.”

He said the CLA was calling on MPs to support a legal obligation for mobile operators to deliver universal coverage for rural Britain.

The Government has made moves to address swathes of black-out areas across the country - but in February, the then digital economy minister Ed Vaizey admitted a £150m scheme to do so had been a flop, delivering just 16 masts in two years.

The Government identified 12 spots in Norfolk in which not even emergency signal existed.

What people said in our survey

Our survey revealed just how severely some of you have been affected by poor signal. Here are some your stories:

In one case, someone whose father was in hospital dying had to battle phone service cutting out while trying to find out vital information. “It caused me a huge amount of stress,” they said.

In a particularly worrying incident, one person from Loddon said their daughter was involved in a bad road crash but they could not be contacted by the emergency services. Three hours later, a policeman arrived at their house to tell them the daughter had already been in surgery for two hours.

Two people said house sales had almost been hampered by unreliable connections.

One respondent said they were unable to keep in touch with unwell family members, while another said problems meant they had to have a house phone fitted to contact an elderly parent in a care home.

For one man, poor phone signal cost him £160. The man, from Mundesley, said: “On one occasion I called my wife to say I was on my way home, as per usual the signal broke - to me the call was ended. The next day I received a text from Vodafone telling me I had shown unusual usage on my phone. As a result of that discontinued call, they charged me £160 for a 13-hour phone call despite the phone shop saying the battery would not last that long on an active phone call.

Other comments included:

“As a disabled person means I can’t call family of friends for help if I have an issue.”

“I am totally reliant on my mobile phone for business which involves messaging around 15 - 20 tradesmen around Norfolk. On average I cannot contact 50pc of the workforce at any one time.”

“We even tested our connection by sitting next to each other and tried to call one another but neither phone would connect. Being in a suburb of Norwich the level of service was shocking.”

“I am paying £36 for a contract with O2 which is utterly useful in Hoveton/Wroxham.”

What the mobile phone companies say

We asked the top four providers in our survey - EE, O2, Vodafone and Three - whether Norfolk was getting a raw deal and what was being done to boost service.

A spokesperson for Vodafone said: “We remain committed to improving the network in Norfolk to ensure our customers receive more consistent download speeds, more reliable voice calling and far fewer dropped calls as well as the benefits of high speed 4G at no extra cost.

“A number of our sites across Norfolk have already been improved – including the introduction of 4G as part of these improvements - with more to come.”

They said they were “very aware” they struggle to deliver the coverage expected in certain areas of the county, putting it down to lack of infrastructure, difficulties in finding sites and gaining permission to build masts in areas of outstanding beauty.

EE said: “We are the leader in network speeds and coverage. We know there’s still more to do (it’s not perfect) and that’s why we’re continuing to invest heavily in our network to make sure our customers across the country, including Norfolk, are getting the best possible mobile experience.”

When asked what they were doing specifically to address problems with signal in Norfolk and Suffolk, they did not respond.

O2 said their signal and 2/3/4G coverage was increasing across both Norfolk and Suffolk.

A spokesperson for Three said: “We recognise how important mobile signal is for people and how frustrating it is when you are not able to use your phone. We remain committed to improving the coverage for all our customers across the UK.”

Three did not respond to request for information on our region.

Still not connected

In 2013 we launched our Let’s Get Connected campaign to show mobile phone providers how bad signal was in parts of Norfolk, Suffolk and the Fens.

Our aim was to put pressure on phone providers to take steps to improve signal and coverage - and end the scandal of people paying for contracts but not receiving an adequate service.

Hundreds of readers completed our online petition, our region’s MPs got behind the campaign, as did the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Norfolk County Council, the Country Land and Business Association and the National Farmers Union.

But coverage has not improved.

Three years on, an epoch in the world of tech, we are in the same situation.

Faster connections through 4G have arrived in more places but despite Government funding a simple mobile phone signal is a dream for large parts of the region.

That is why we asked our readers two weeks ago to start filling in our online survey and rate the coverage where they live.

By doing that we will get a better picture of where does and doesn’t have coverage.

We will then take our findings to Ofcom which regulates the mobile phone industry.

Ofcom does not take up individual complaints with mobile phone providers, although they do log and monitor them, but if we go to Ofcom with thousands of complaints they are more likely to take notice.

You can complete the survey here.

In the meantime, Ofcom advises to check the provider’s coverage before you buy a new contract and then try your coverage as soon as you get connected.

•In tomorrow’s paper we’ll be looking at how our survey respondents rated their 3G and 4G

•What are your experiences of bad mobile phone signal? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk


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