The BBC reports that the Advertising Standards Authority has ordered EE (the conjunction of T-Mobile and Orange) to change its mobile coverage checker after a customer complained it had wrongly told him he would receive excellent service in his area. Most phone suppliers proudly state they cover 99% of the UK population. Sounds great! But as someone who regularly travels around Scotland and finds myself equally regularly without a signal, this got me thinking about what coverage actually means. Large areas seem to lack even a basic 2G service and often you can’t even send a text – which needs even less of a signal. I think its rather unreasonable to quote a percentage of the population when you are talking mobile communications, surely when you are moving around its the area covered which is important? Its pretty obvious that 99% of the population isn’t going to be anything like 99% of the land area in Scotland. But how much is it?
Of course mapping mobile phone coverage is a classic example of spatial analysis, involving the locations and power of transmitters and a digital terrain model. A little online investigation found a recently-published Scottish Government report “Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland” which gives results of such analyses. This report is revealing: basically 27.5% of Scotland doesn’t even have 2G coverage from any operator. I am usually looking for a 3G signal to hook up the laptop and keep my Gazetteer for Scotland up-to-date, yet something around 75% of the Highlands and Islands, along with sizeable areas (c.50%) of Aberdeenshire, the Scottish Borders, Stirling and Dumfries & Galloway, has no 3G coverage from any operator – a dire situation. Perhaps acceptable if roads and railways were covered, but there are notable “no-spots” along many of these transport arteries. There are anomalies: North Uist has better 3G coverage than 2G. I’ve experienced that, its basically because “3” aka Hutchison-Whampoa have a solitary transmitter on South Clettraval. So why so much concern about 4G when there is still so much to do on the existing network?