back to article The 3G map Ofcom didn't want you to see

Want to know 3G coverage in your area? After weeks of refusing to do so, telco quango Ofcom published a coverage map today. That's what it's supposed to do, you'd think. Cell operators are obliged to provide information to the regulator, and know the signal strength down to a few feet. But we can reveal that for weeks, Ofcom's …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Oh well...

    ...they won't exist in a couple of years anyway....bye bye.

  2. Frank Thomas


    This is why regulation MUST be an adversarial game. A regulator that is not feared by the regulated is worse than useless. it becomes a mouthpiece and a vector for allowing harm without redress.

  3. SuperTim

    No use and completely misrepresented.

    The operators are not required to KNOW the coverage to a few feet, just to be able to demonstrate that they can estimate it. It is also "outside" coverage and not based on use in buildings, so assumes there are no man-made obstructions. Having seen coverage maps in much better detail, they are optimistic at best. They show full 3g coverage at my house, when in fact i cannot get 3g, and sometime not even a half decent 2g signal. I could if i sat on my roof, but i find it too slopey to use my laptop!

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Don't get me started!

    I cannot work out Ipswich from Iran on that map.

    But I can report that '3's coverage in Co16 8hw St Osyth, nr Clacton, Essex is ...whats the word for completely covered in excrement....hmmm oh yes superb. No I meant the exact opposite.

    Orange there, is ever so slightly better. Freeview there is hopeless. It might as well be the freekin twilight zone in fact.

  5. Jon 66


    Sorry am i missing something here? The freedom of information request was refused in April as the report was unfinished. Then the finished report was published in July. This isn't really a cover up now is it?

  6. Stu
    IT Angle

    When you open that bottle of Ofcom water... you find its just full of vapour?


    I'm questioning the IT angle of my own posting!

  7. Anonymous Coward

    It's not as simple as that....

    The coverage maps you see are generally produced by the operator and are primarily for marketing purposes. They are based on output from network planning tools and are predicted coverage, probably without clutter information and with arbitary signal thresholds applied. Most operators probably produce this down to 100m level accuracy, and with a threshold level which means OK signal quality outside buildings. Therefore this is very misleading for people wanting to use data cards in their back-bedrooms. Additionally the cell data used on these coverage maps might be many months out of date, hence engineering works, and normal network rollout and site decommissioning will afffect the actual real-world coverage.

    OFCOM could of course force all the operators to produce their coverage maps to the same level of detail, using the same thresholds etc, but that would mean that OFCOM would have to do some work.

    On a final note. The operators could of course provide much better blanket coverage if they were allowed to build more base-stations, but unfortunately it's difficult to get the planning permission, so expect even more coverage holes in areas with a high number of new-age crystal gazing luddites. The only solution may be to invest in femtocell technology...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Welsh iphone 'boomerang' - returns to the shop every time.

    In Camarthen-West Wales they are certainly not short of phone shops - phones4u, vodafone, orange, o2, carphonewarehouse + a few other independents all offering the wonders of a 3G Dongles, iphones etc. Be nice if they forced phone retailers to show these maps in the front window. With a blown up one of the surrounding area. 'Compusive Liar' on your CV is surely a prerequisit for any job within the mobile industry in Wales - how else would all these shops survive - with little to no 3G coverage. The Welsh iphone return rate must be staggering.

  9. Grease Monkey Silver badge

    How about an open source map?

    If I knew where to start I create an open source map, where users could submit information on location, provider and signal strength. The only problem would lie in preventing the network operators from "poisoning" the map with their own data. Actually there may also be a risk of any given network's detractors or fans submitting bogus data, but hopefully with sufficient uptake the signal would drown out this noise.

    On second thoughts bandwidth may be better than signal strength, I've come across several locations where signal strength is excelent but speed is little better than GPRS.

  10. Matt Vernon 1

    Ok I have to ask...

    Why do all of the operators provide signal just off th west coast of wales, that doesn't overlap onto land..?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You could of course look here.






  12. Anonymous Coward


    What's that? I'm in a "strong" 3G signal area (Cheltenham) according to T-Mobile, I often loose even basic connectivity if I'm inside, and whats the point of a mobile phone it it sits there, doesn't ring and then sends you a text message saying you've missed a call?

    Can I use 3G on my G1? No, it doesn't work and thus my wonderful G1 is capable of download speeds comparable to a slow analogue modem. I was actually told by T-mobile support to turn off the 3G because apparently if its spending its time looking for 3G signals it basically kills the other protocols.

    The only use for the 3G capability on my G1 here is to flatten the battery quickly.

    3G is the mobile phone version of Vista.

  13. John Sturdy

    do it ourselves?

    Perhaps the public could do better, couldn't people add their local reception levels to an open map such as ?

  14. Pete 2 Silver badge

    I want one

    A "Regulation 12(4)(d)" that is. Imagine: you don't have to disclose anything until it's finished. Don't want to disclose? Easy! it's not finished. With mobile phone tech; which is evolving at a daily rate - with new towers being unveiled (or should that be veiled, considering local opposition to them?) every week the job will never be done.

    And when the technical part of the work is finished - or has just run out of monkey, there's all the reviews, approvals, re-writes, acceptances, declassification, reclassificatiom, more rewrites, updates (again), more approvals, redefined goals, additional surveys .... well, you get the idea. Meanwhile, all the "workers" are merely sitting around drinking tea - safe in the knowledge that they'll never have to do any actual work as there's no possibiility that it will ever be:

    a) finished

    b) accurate (see (a))

    so there will never be anything to release, so there's no point starting.

    Come to think of it, I want a job with OfCom, as well.

  15. Patrick Bateman

    3G in the sea?!

    What the hell are the operators doing providing 3G coverage to hundreds of square miles of the sea and ocean all around the south and eastern coast? Some of it looks like the transmitters are installed off-shore, and only happen to catch the land by accident!

  16. sdevo

    3G map for VF are online


    you can get a very detailed map of GSM or 3G coverage from vodafone here

  17. mw

    you mean something like this ofcom website?

    Admitedly, Google Maps doesn't have anything to worry about from the the genius who designed the user interface, and it won't tell you how good your coverage will be in a specific location, but it does have information about cell tower locations, networks, and so on.

  18. Steve Evans


    "People buying 3G dongles should note that they have little chance of using them outside the M25."

    Yeah right...

    My other half bought a 3 USB dongle... The map showed her area was high strength, and it should work inside the house without any problem.

    She could barely use it by putting the laptop on the window ledge! It ended up taped onto the window on a USB extension lead! Hardly the image they portray in the blurb!

    I gave her a few choice quotes from the sale of goods act "unfit for purpose" being the main one, and she went back to the shop.

    Oh, and what deserted part of the country does she live in... Lambeth!

  19. Anonymous Coward

    OFCOM seem too friendly to those they should be regulating

    Let me guess why OFCOM are so useless..... I'd bet that it is stuffed with former BT executives, former Vodafone, ex-orange....., or others who may be major shareholders of the regulated, etc...

    If I were a crooked businessman who operated in a regulated market I'd be looking to fiddle the regulator. It is naive to think that the regulated businesses here wouldn't want to influence OFCOM in their favour.

    OFCOM are consistently useless. They did next to nothing years ago when it came to getting broadband rolled out, and they took a very long time to deal with the local loop monopolization by BT (which still occurs to a more or lesser degree). OFCOM have done nothing about ISPs and BS use of "unlimited" (the ASA is an advertising trade body, so they are expected to be useless from a customer's point of view).

    Of course, it could just be governmental or bureaucratic ineptitude on the part of OFCOM, but lets be honest, they will recognise they need experience from the comms industries, and would possibly look to former employees of comms businesses. But long-term politicians don't appear to actually understand all the nuances of how how private business works, and it is the politicians who create regulators and are answerable to by the regulator.

    This page on the OFCOM site shows some of the other interests that the regulator's individual members have:

    Something that stood out to me is that there are 2 people on there with pensions from BT. There are also other interests in banking and private equity (hardly little-guy friendly industries), mobile comms, and even the boss of Pace - the maker of many Sky TV STBs. I couldn't imagine that Rupert Murdoch could have any influence over him, oh no!

    Seeing as this is just an internet rant, I'm not going to really look into all the OFCOM members, but just a little clicking around shows that there are other people at OFCOM who have worked for BT (former head of business economics at BT!!!!!), worked for ITN, etc..

    I'm not saying that these people are intentionally retarding the regulator, but everyone's past has a bearing on what we do now - decisions that get made, etc.. And when you leave one place of employment you stay in contact with people from the old places of work.

    The Reg has referred to OFCOM in the past as a watchdog with no teeth.... my opinion is it has teeth, it is just loyal and doesn't want to bite its master.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Ofcom Sitefinder website

    Their crappy old Sitefinder website is still online, for all the old masts that are still around since the mobile phone companies stopped providing the data 'for commercial reasons':

    Very cumbersome to use - Google Maps it ain't!

  21. WonkoTheSane

    @AC 15:29 / Sdevo

    Good links. Pity Vodafone doesn't seem to like Firefox on Linux.

  22. The Original Steve

    @Grease Monkey

    I guess it could be done based on signal strength and speed and the location could be set by GPS on the handset. (Assuming you have a handset with 3G and GPS!!!)

    Would have thought a symbian and WinMo app could be knocked up without too much hassle - although I'm a networking geek rather than a coder....

    Any takers?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Nice try

    I guess the bottle of water is supposed to signify a waste of tax pounds.

    The truth is they're refilled in the building and have been for years. All in all cheaper than buying a bottle of perrier.

    Paris: pounding? filling? I dunno.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    the problem with 3G is as soon as theres a lot of people using one cell everything starts to slow down, if it starts to take more calls and data traffic that its maximum capacity and you find youself in a FIFO queue. as a result if there are the maximum amount of people talking at the same time on your local cell then if one of them doesnt hang up before the call connection timeout is reached then the call dosent get as far as the phone, hence signal but no ring. conversely when you are trying to make a call, when .it either beaps at you and cuts off. if you notice sometimes calls connect and start ringing straight away and others theres a few seconds wait. if you are finding out have a good signal but are missing calls, get some examples and get in investigated as there is either a problem with the cell or they need to plan some network expansion. but if the signal is shit inside and good outside theres nothing the network can do about that its your house's fault (well the building material), signal strenght is only predicted outdoors because the networks can in no way guarantee it can make it through the walls.

    data's a whole other story, as with fixed line data, network speed varys according to traffic on local to national level. the signal is the least of your worries really

    theres signal in the sea because there are cells that over look the sea and because there are no physical obstructions, i.e. hills and buildings, the signal travels out long distances. in africa they manage to send wifi signals for miles using baked bean tins for directivity.

  25. Richard 35
    Dead Vulture

    Bye bye Ofcom

    Time you went.

    How a regulator can have commercial interests is beyond me, and the fact that they are blatantly failing to legislate against the wholesale of illegal PLT equipment (read BT Vision Comtrend Power Line adaptors).

    It's all about who has fingers in which pies and fcuk the law if I can get a directorship or commercial gain out of allowing thinggs through the back door. Ofcom is run by

    Die Ofcom, and give us back the RA. Ofcom is run by Bureaucrats rather than technically capable Executives and it's just about making money with no regard to quality of service (read DAB vs FM) and existing services (read short-wave broadcast).

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A fairly unrelated point...

    It's not their own brand of bottled water, it's basically brita filtered water in an own brand bottle that is re-used. My workplace has them too sunce the management realised the expense that bottled water was costing, not to mention the environmental concerns of moving a product by lorry when there are perfectly good pipes that do the same job for a fraction of the cost.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    You're awfully demanding

    You're all awfully demanding of your government. It's as though you think that a taxpayer funded entity such as OfCom owes you something.

  28. steeplejack

    Name and Shame: Here goes:

    Product: Vodafone Mobile Data dongle

    Location: Wivenhoe, home town of University Of Essex

    3G: unavailable

    Vodafone 2G data download speed: 4 KB/sec

    Price: £23.50 per month for 18 months

  29. Bryce Prewitt

    Providing 3G coverage out over the sea...

    Oh, could there be 3G signals well out into the sea because THERE ARE NO OBSTRUCTIONS - NATURAL OR OTHERWISE - IN THE SEA? You know... NO MOUNTAINS OR SKYRISES... IMAGINE THAT! A signal, being broadcast from a tower high above sea level, HAS NO PROBLEM BEING RECEIVED WITH A CLEAR 'LINE OF SIGHT' FROM... DUN DUN DUN... SEA LEVEL! Why it must be FUCKING MAGIC!

    I swear some of you tits need to go back to the Daily Mail and LEAVE THE REGISTER ALONE.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Following on from the EU - they should have removed Wales from the Map

    I'm surpised OFCOM take a leaf out of the EU and just remove the outline of Wales from the map, for the publication. It would have improved the picture no end. From this map it is pretty obvious no one in Wales has a mobile phone. They must have Queues outside their Red Telephone boxes - very 1950's, well they would have if it wasn't for BT taking them away because of all things - mobile coverage has now made them obselete - clearly not.

    In their day trains were equivalent to Moble phones today. It was plainly obvious that this would revolutionise society and how things were done - it was a no brainer putting in the investment.

    Now if we were inventing the railways for the first time today, we have a bit of track and a single carriage packed to the brim then a long walk over a bit hill to get to the other side to meet the new train company on the other side. Luckily the Victorians saw things differently to the complete idiots that work at OFCOM.

  31. Barry Lane 1


    Complained to Ofcom a while back about a couple of dodgy businesses - these must remain nameless (although one was a cowboy outfit known as BT) - and they told me that they couldn't respond to only one complaint. Apparently they need lots of complaints about any issue before they're prepared to get up off their well paid arses and do anything. I wrote to the head honcho at Ofcom and asked him if he thought his job was worth doing, but I didn't get a response. Tosser!

  32. Anonymous Coward


    The sitefinder web site was set up very quickly, with little investment, quite sometime ago, and I have to say, doesn't appear to have been touched since, apart from re-skinning from the RA to Ofcom. The mobile companies hate it so, I expect Ofcom has little incentive to upgrade it. I also suspect that they actively try to discourage enhancement. They didn't want it as they considered it exposed commercial and security risks, and I seem to remember that they have tried to have it taken down several times. It's hardly any surprise that the mobile companies wouldn't want to expose their 3G maps in any detail, quite unlike the early days when they were only too happy to let you know their coverage.

    I believe the developers view was, not brilliant but it will do.

  33. John Murgatroyd

    So ?

    Which is why 3uk markets a rather nice wireless router that has a plug-in 3g can stick it in an upstairs window !

    Anyway, back to Ofcom and an explanatory phrase:

    O£COM, Leading the world in Cashmunications !

  34. Rod MacLean

    RE: FOI

    Jon 66 wrote: "Sorry am i missing something here? The freedom of information request was refused in April as the report was unfinished. Then the finished report was published in July. This isn't really a cover up now is it?"

    It is when the data is from January. At the very least they're covering up the fact that instead of doing any real work they've sat yanking on their todgers for 5 months. Have you looked at the report? How long would YOU have taken to write it?

  35. Insane Reindeer

    @Bryce Prewitt

    You beat me to it! Truly the greatest comment ever posted on any story ever in the whole history El Reg's readers comments! GIVE THE MAN A DRINK!

  36. Anonymous Coward

    Won't work indoors

    No coverage map can predict coverage inside your house unless you want to let a man from every service provider wander round your house taking readings and tuning a prediction model.

    Then of course upstairs will probably get better signal than downstairs, I seem to remember someone giving a rule of thumb of 3dB per 2m height gain.

    Most providers predict coverage down to 25m in most of the country and maybe down to a meter or so in high density urban areas. I know, I used to work on software that does the predictions and have seen a couple of the major UK and several worldwide provider's source data.

    The prediction calcs are generally constrained so that the maximum accuracy possible isn't obtained. (it would take too long to compute)

    But that is still measured/predicted at an ideal of 1.8m high in the open.

    We did try a tool that would take coverage from phones and their location (not using GPS, using time delay off the cell towers, so no indoor GPS signal problems). The accuracy was down to a couple of meters, which is still not enough to differentiate between someone inside a steel fram building getting virtually no signal and someone walking past getting good signal. And we couldn't differentiate between people upstairs and downstairs etc...

    The ONLY way to be sure what coverage you're going to get is not looking at a map, but getting a phone in the place where you want to know what it is.

  37. peter garner

    Re: How about an open source map?

    Yes, well I'd happy to contribute to that after yesterday's farcical train ride from Reading to Birmingham: my T-Mobile GSM signal was non-existent for most of the way, let alone 3G and there were a couple of times when even the read "SOS only" icon didn't come up. I'd never seen so many bored business travellers unable to use their USB laptop dongles. What utter rubbish!!!

  38. Anonymous Coward

    O2 Coverage Contradiction

    The coverage map on O2's website is fiction. It claims I have strong 3G signal at my home address. However, I have seen the supporting documentation they have provided on a planning application for a mast near to my house and it claims otherwise. Claiming they cannot provide 3G coverage to my area without this new mast.

    Incidentally, I have no 3G coverage in my home or on my street with my iPhone.

  39. richard 69

    bryce prewitt

    for president!

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't the Mobile Providers Have 3G Maps on Their Websites?

    When I had problems with my broadband supplier last year I researched whether mobile 'broadband' would be an option. I opted in the end for a Vodafone dongle which I still have (a useful, if expensive back-up if the internet goes down + useful if I want to use my laptop where there's no other internet). In the end my broadband got sorted. The speed is only 2G where I live (rural Suffolk) and slow at that. But Vodafone (and other providers) carry maps that show where there is coverage (and also future plans for coverage). A useful guide nonetheless.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    Re : Bryce Prewitt

    Nice simplistic rant which totally ignores a whole host of factors influencing radio propagation over the sea.

    How about some simple things first, like, oh curvature of the Earth. Might have an effect don't you think.

    Scatter from wave action is going to introduce a whole package of multipath interference problems.

    Most people wonder why the radio energy is being sent over the sea in the first place. Did you think about that? Aerial design is advanced enough so that the propagation pattern can be tailored to the local environment and the expected location of the customers.

    Aerial design and radio propagation theory is a fascinating subject, However it demands a lot more thought than CAPS LOCK action so it might not suit you.

  42. Anonymous Coward

    Coverage vs Capacity..

    You can get missed calls even when you have full signal. A single cell can set set up to give a 20 mile coverage, or a 200m coverage. The difference between the two is the number of concurrent calls you can sustain, as with the 200m cell, you can have another 40 channels in another 400m.

    Not only should coverage be published, but so should capacity. Its just like the ADSL contention arguments. (most of which are by people who worry about not getting their 8Mb/s forgetting they don't actually pay for 100% of that bandwidth).

  43. Jim 15

    Why not go to the Voda web site????

    Apologies if someone else has posted this, I haven't the time to read all the comments, but what's the big problem? The coverage maps are on the Vodafone website and took me about 5 seconds to fine, under FAQ. Much more detailed than what Ofcom published yesterday.

  44. Giles Jones Gold badge

    @3G in the sea?!

    So people with boats should be denied the wonders of modern technology?

  45. richard 69

    @ Anonymous Coward

    you've been on wikipedia again haven't you?

    naughty boy, thinking you've actually found out some techie info. keep using it for all your future comments though, they're always a laugh mr 'i'm so important that i have to keep my identity secret' coward.

    yeah right.

  46. Adam W

    Operator website coverage maps

    These suggestions of using the operator websites would be all well and good if their pages bore any relation to reality, too. I work in the industry, and in the city I live in (Sheffield) there are various 3G blackspots on Vodafone - including the road I live on. Funny how the Vodafone coverage map suggests blanket 3G coverage in our area, when this is - from personal experience, with two different handsets - most certainly not the case.

    I'm all for an open-source map, and will happily supply info. I've always thought a Google Earth overlay for coverage would be fantastic - why can't one of the networks take the plunge and try it? It might actually gain them some respect from customers for being honest about it.

  47. Anonymous Coward


    Old terraced houses have bricks in them that effectively block most signals.

    When I had cable tv fitted a few years ago the engineer went through 4 drill bits drilling two holes through internal walls. "Iron mixed in to the bricks in these old houses" he said. It surprised me because I'd not heard that before but it certainly explains why connectivity in these old houses is less than ideal.

  48. simonckenyon

    coverage maps are available on the website

    so what is wrong with:

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    coverage at sea

    Was I the only one to think what a waste of time and money the mobile operators have spent providing 3G coverage at sea? I can't get a decent signal in many busy country towns and villages I visit. Come on sort it out please!

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