Scottish Daily Mail

Phones shake-up to wipe out blackspots

Users will be able to swap between UK networks

- By James Chapman Political Editor

MOBILE phone blackspots will become a thing of the past under radical Government plans to make firms allow customers to swap freely between networks.

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid is understood to be discussing a system of ‘national roaming’ to eliminate poor signals that affect many parts of the country.

The talks with mobile phone operators about reforms could mean them sharing mobile phone masts to increase coverage in rural areas.

The policy has been inspired by changes in the EU which will bring in free roaming from 2016. However, unless action is taken, foreign visitors will be able to come to the UK and benefit from hopping between networks for free, while people living in the UK cannot.

It would mean a phonecall is transferre­d to the nearest mast, even if it is run by a rival company.

Mobile phone firms have been reluctant to agree to sharing masts because t hey have funded the costs of erecting them themselves, and do not want to share them with rivals.

However, the idea of national roaming is understood to have been raised by Mr Javid and his aides in meetings with industry leaders in recent weeks.

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said: ‘Of course we want to look at what more can be done in areas with poor coverage.

‘The Government has made clear it wants to ensure the UK has world-class mobile phone coverage as part of our investment in infrastruc­ture for the long term economic plan.

‘ We are investing up to £150million to improve mobile coverage in areas where there is currently no coverage from any of the mobile network operators.’ Campaigner­s have complained that i n parts of rural Britain telephone reception is worse than in India and Malawi.

A system of national roaming would dramatical­ly reduce the number of places which suffer the misery of poor signals. Greg Clark, now a Cabinet Office minister, attempted to change the law before the last election by introducin­g a ‘right

‘Areas with poor coverage’

to roam’ Bill in the Commons. As well as improving coverage in remote areas, senior Tories believe that in areas with good signals, such as towns and suburbs, roaming would remove the need for duplicated mobile phone masts.

One industry source said: ‘It’s being debated currently; the operators have not yet formed a formal position. Clearly we’re all against it to a lesser or greater degree.

‘National roaming just doesn’t work, not least for a technical reason – there will be more dropped calls as phones try to switch networks.’

Rather than a full system of national roaming, operators are thought to be pushing the idea of ‘neutral masts’ that are co-owned by the major firms.

Prime Minister David Cameron is understood to have become increasing­ly frustrated by dropped calls in his Witney constituen­cy – and in Downing Street, which is a notorious mobile blackspot even though it is in the heart of London.

David Heath, a former environmen­t minister and Lib Dem MP for Somerton and Frome, said he had to ‘squat against the sink’ to take phone calls from his office because of poor coverage in his constituen­cy.

He added: ‘If I walk up the lane there is a spot where I do get something approachin­g a signal.’

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