back to article Forget 5G, UK.gov is making 2G fit for the 21st century!

The government flagged up the biggest shake-up in mobile regulation for 25 years yesterday. Tories who ridiculed Ed Miliband’s intervention in the energy market might need to remove the large wooden beam from their field of vision first. Four major policy options are suggested in the Ministry of Fun’s rural mobile consultation …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Easiest way I can think of to solve the partial zones, and help tackle the not zones, as well as lowering the amount of mobile spectrum all together is to go a BT approach, by which I mean give all operators the same frequency, Suddenly no need for 4 towers to cover area X, only 1, possibly 2 if you want a backup. Less expense all over, meaning more likelyhood they could expand to a dead zone.

    Then again the entire idea of sharing resources for the common good is communist, so it won't happen.

  2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  3. marky_boi
    Thumb Down

    I find this hilarious

    In good old Aussie, the GSM network is being retired in the next few years[can't quite remember the timetable].. You poor Brits seems to be suffering with a creaky band-aid riddled patchwork of operators. Even Vodafone in Australia actually had to stump and update their band-aid solution or face havong the last 20 people on the network leave.... good luck !!!!

    1. HMB

      Re: I find this hilarious

      I already use a network in the UK that has no 2G. I have a great data experience and phone calls are clearer too. I don't have problems with signal either.

      It's not all bad in the UK, but like in any country around the world, there are rural areas where there's poor coverage.

      I don't have much sympathy for NIMBY nibbled neighbourhoods like Chipping Norton. Like it says in the article, communities need to decide what they want, mobile coverage or no mobile masts.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I find this hilarious

        It's not all bad in the UK, but like in any country around the world, there are rural areas where there's poor coverage.

        I don't class a city with a population of 125,000 as "rural'. Yes, we have *really* crap mobile coverage and would love to have decent 2G coverage. But we can only dream....

      2. David Beck

        Re: I find this hilarious

        I don't have much sympathy for idiots who make assumptions without the benefit of facts. Chipping Norton has signals from all four networks and where I live excellent 3G on 3 and EE and excellent 4G on EE.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: I find this hilarious

      Thousands of square miles of inner Australia have the same coverage that Skippy had (although Skippy didn't have a satellite phone option, he could talk to people over the HF radio though).

      1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

        Re: I find this hilarious

        Ah, but Skippy knows Liza Goddard - an old man can dream.

  4. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Rethink Research noted the irony of a government launching into a major shakeup of 2G just as the rest of the world is discussing 5G

    No, because some (many?) of us struggle to get any mobile signal and would be very happy just to get a 2G GSM signal.

    1. Glen 1 Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: lack of 2G signal

      I thought the point of a lot of the 4G tech was greater capicity with fewer/same number of base stations?

      It struck me as odd in the reg review of 4G tech where it assumed 3G coverage had been relegated to being a poor neighbour. The logical answer is that its just the 4G stuff doing its job from the same base stations. Isn't this why the lower frequencies were being rejigged/auctioned? To allow greater range?

      TBF I have 3G turned off most of the time on my aging phone. I like the battery lasting more than a day, and only turn 3G on when im browsing.

      The icon can be more effective in some not-spots

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    2G - 20 years on

    2G technology was switched on in the early 90's. I find it a laughable indiction of how well the operators have invested in their networks that 20+ years later, not only is the technology still out there, but there are plans to enhance it!

    There was an overlap of less than 10 years between introduction of 2G and the closure of 1G/analogue networks, yet due to their lack of investment in 3G the operators now have to support 3 different network technolgies. There has to be a cost associated with supporting 3 networks - perhaps if they had invested more in 3G, and 2G was now allowed to die, they would have more money to provide "rural" coverage.

    And its not just "rural" coverage - there are many urban and suburban areas that have woefully inadequate service too. Not to mention actually using a mobile phone in a mobile environment (hands-free) without having a call drop evey 2-3 minutes when the network fails to handover between cells.

    Sometimes I think we in the UK have a 3rd world level of service from the mobile operators.

    1. Paw Bokenfohr

      Re: 2G - 20 years on

      "Sometimes I think we in the UK have a 3rd world level of service from the mobile operators."

      I think that sometimes too, but then I to places like the US and Canada, and realise that while we may have annoyances with the mobile providers here, at least we're (relatively) only paying third-world prices for them.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 2G - 20 years on

      "Sometimes I think we in the UK have a 3rd world level of service from the mobile operators."

      No, most third world countries that have a mobile service have a better network, because they built it later. But when you talk about a third world service from mobile operators, don't forget that the infamous thieving bastard, Gordon Brown, arranged for the 3G auctions to be run in a way that milked over £20 bn out of the operators.

      If you forcibly abstract around £400 per customer from the industry, paid up front, then its hardly any surprise that (a) there's no enthusiasm to invest in assets, and (b) you're in no hurry to make obsolete your existing asset base.

      1. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: 2G - 20 years on

        >If you forcibly abstract around £400 per customer from the industry,

        And you're still blaming an event that happened 14 years ago for today's rip off prices and shoddy performance? Especially after the 4G auctions a while back didn't even meet the reserve? And Voda got a huge tax write-off a couple of years ago?

        No. I don't think so.

    3. Equitas

      Re: 2G - 20 years on

      "Not to mention actually using a mobile phone in a mobile environment (hands-free) without having a call drop evey 2-3 minutes when the network fails to handover between cells."

      If you have a half-decent car with a built-in GSM transceiver and a mobile that can use the rsap bluetooth profiile, then you won't have significant black spots even in the most remote parts of the country. Most of the upmarket cars in the VW, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Bentley and a number of other ranges have such "premium" audio systems. The sad thing is, of course, that iPhones and Windows phones can't use rsap and so can use only the handsfree feature of such audio systems -- they can't use the powerful transceiver circuits and efficient car aerial of the GSM transceiver

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Underlying assumption

    There is an underlying assumption here that there is a right for a mobile user to be able to use their device wherever and whenever they want.

    Besides that point, the networks have a contractual obligation to provide (I think, but willing to be put right) 95% population coverage. unfortunately sheep and trees dont count as population, therefore most networks are contractually designed to cover urban areas. I'm sure the networks would fill in the rural gaps, but only if they are allowed to actually make a profit to subsidise these masts which have a handful of calls a day.

    1. Dabooka

      Re: Underlying assumption

      Problem with that is I doubt they hit the 95% coverage. It must fall well wide of that mark although I’m sure the big 4 believe otherwise either through ignorance of deceit.

      1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

        Re: Underlying assumption

        Problem with that is I doubt they hit the 95% coverage. It must fall well wide of that mark although I’m sure the big 4 believe otherwise either through ignorance of deceit.

        I suspect the operators have drunk their own Kool Aid and believe their own marketing gumpf. If you believe their marketing coverage maps, then they probably are hitting 95%. But if you come into the real world, I can't believe it's even near 90%

        1. tangerine Sedge

          Re: Underlying assumption

          >I suspect the operators have drunk their own Kool Aid and believe their own marketing gumpf. If you believe their marketing coverage maps, then they probably are hitting 95%. But if you come into the real world, I can't believe it's even near 90%

          It *is* a marketing tool, and the operators know this. In my opinion, OFCOM should be challenging the operators, but the game-keeper appears to drinking in the same pub as the poachers...

        2. Dabooka

          Re: Underlying assumption

          Yup completely agree, but as long as around a boardroom somewhere heads nod sagely in the disbelief that the coverage is being met.... nothing will change.

          Not suer how I got downvoted earlier, but hey ho!

      2. tangerine Sedge

        Re: Underlying assumption

        >Problem with that is I doubt they hit the 95% coverage. It must fall well wide of that mark although I’m sure the big 4 believe otherwise either through ignorance of deceit.

        This is 95% based on *predicted* coverage, based on a specific signal level(*). This does not include such nasties as trees and buildings which might impact the signal. This 95% is partly through deceit as the signal level threshold is designed to be bare 2g outside coverage. I suggest that you blame OFCOM for not managing the operators properly.

        The simple answer, is that if you want excellent coverage then the operators would have to build more masts and the consumers would have to pay for it.

        Incidentally, there is nothing to stop people from roaming between networks, other than commercial agreements. The billing is in place to charge foreign roamers so it's not rocket science to create a few more for the local MNOS and MVNOs.

        (*)In my experience.

    2. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: Underlying assumption

      >There is an underlying assumption here that there is a right for a mobile user to be able to use their device wherever and whenever they want.

      Outrageous, isn't it. People are paying £30-£100 a month, and they actually expect to be able to use their phones in most of the UK?

      Imagine if your electricity contract was run on the same basis. 'Sorry for the blackouts, but we just can't get it together to supply the service you're paying for. Your call is important to us, but tough shit.'

      1. tangerine Sedge

        Re: Underlying assumption

        >>There is an underlying assumption here that there is a right for a mobile user to be able to use their device wherever and whenever they want.

        Outrageous, isn't it. People are paying £30-£100 a month, and they actually expect to be able to use their phones in most of the UK?

        Imagine if your electricity contract was run on the same basis. 'Sorry for the blackouts, but we just can't get it together to supply the service you're paying for. Your call is important to us, but tough shit.'

        You can use your phone in most of the UK, apart from a few areas where it is either impractical or expensive to do so. Incidentally, that 30-100 per month is to rent a handset, the actuality is that you are paying £5-£20 to be able to call/text/internet from *most* of the UK whenever you want day or night.

        Your analogy to the electric contract is silly. They will be comparable when I can walk into a field in the middle of nowhere and plug my laptop into a 3 pin plug socket.

    3. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Underlying assumption

      They also seem - and indeed boasted about this when building out networks in the past - to have focussed, at least initially, on motorway coverage, believing that the main users of the phones were travelling salesmen, with their Nokia 6310 clipped to the dash of the company Escort.

      Whether it's a result of that, or just sheer laziness, I find that very often the coverage on trains is abominable. Travelling down to Winchester, I find huge chunks of the trip where it's impossible to get coverage, on both 3 and Orange, and the same is often true on other trips.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Underlying assumption

        That's ok because last thing I want is to sit in a carriage listening to half a shouted conversation.

    4. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Underlying assumption

      The problem is that people in train carriages, cars and at work also don't count as population.

  7. Rizzla

    Complete garbage about law enforcement challenges!

    Having listened to the crap about enforced roaming mean it will be more difficult to track criminal activity all I can say is what a load of horse poo! It's all about the mobile networks not wanting to spend money modifying their software! You can't get on without an IMEI so EVERY network tracks it. The networks will know who the roaming IMEI belongs to (network wise, not customer) and Bill accordingly.

    They want their cheapest, easiest, will have an ulterior motive option which is to chuck more masts up. Not spots can also use telegraph pole or tree shaped antennas. It's not technically difficult, just not what they want to do. These Telcos are as bad as BT in their forward thinking.

    1. Ragarath

      Re: Complete garbage about law enforcement challenges!

      Further on from that, I seem to be able to roam easily while abroad. Why is it so much harder at home?

      1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

        @ Ragarath - Re: Complete garbage about law enforcement challenges!

        I seem to be able to roam easily while abroad. Why is it so much harder at home?

        There are MVNOs in the UK that can offer you a cross-network SIM for use in the UK. The only downside is that they cost a fortune (compared a single network SIM, anyway)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Complete garbage about law enforcement challenges!

      Speaking of complete garbage....

      The IMEI is a device serial number. Apart from the first 8 digits (which tell you the device model) it's pretty much a random number. There is no way to work out a user's home network from it.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Complete garbage about law enforcement challenges!

        "Speaking of complete garbage....

        The IMEI is a device serial number. Apart from the first 8 digits (which tell you the device model) it's pretty much a random number. There is no way to work out a user's home network from it."

        That's interesting, because they seem to have it sussed it when they need to IMEI block a phone across any UK network when the subscriber hasn't paid their bill. Is there something unique about that kind of database sharing that can't be used for cross network ID?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Complete garbage about law enforcement challenges!

      Law enforcement want to monitor user X on network B. They get a warrant for this and apply to network B. Job done.

      In future, they will have to apply to network A, B, C & D. Not difficult but a 4 fold increase in effort.

    4. Soruk

      Re: Complete garbage about law enforcement challenges!

      You're thinking IMSI, not IMEI.

  8. Dabooka
    Mushroom

    Can't help but think the 'rural' element has been overlooked a little too quickly here

    I don’t live rural, but I do live on the fringe edge of a village within a conurbation. We all struggle to get a signal of any sort in poor weather in particular, despite EE’s coverage map suggesting we should get excellent 2,3 AND 4G coverage.

    This must be repeated in countless places in the UK, yet as we’re not London / Birmingham / Manchester etc it’s tough. Sorry Andrew, by all means dump 2G if its time has come, but give me a firm and stable connection Somehow Everywhere thanks.

    And this a week after EEs 4G+NiTrO SuperTurboMegaQuick network launched within London. Yay London!

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Can't help but think the 'rural' element has been overlooked a little too quickly here

      Yep - I've lived in four places in the last few years, all well-populated and with large numbers of well-paid people living there (near Sheffield, Kenilworth, both sides of the Tay near Dundee), and I haven't had a decent mobile signal in any of them. In all of them except Kenilworth I was up a hill, yet going into the garden was the only way to get decent contact with the mast. Data is generally something that my phone has the capability to do under very specific circumstances (such as being in the middle of a city. However, when I go abroad in Europe, I rarely have any problems - and I tend not to holiday in cities. The coverage in Britain is fairly shit.

  9. xpz393

    NIMBYs

    This: "Well-heeled rural communities vigorously fight the installation of equipment that improves their mobile communications – then complain that their mobile coverage is inadequate"

    The most helpful thing the government could do is to legislate against this 'Not In My Back Yard' mentality.

    I believe that it's absolutely correct that mobile phone networks discuss new mast sites with local planners to ensure that the installation strikes a balance between optimum coverage and minimal aesthetic impact, but ultimately, if there's a need for the mast, whinging locals shouldn't be allowed to stop it from happening.

    1. Waspy

      Re: NIMBYs

      I couldn't agree more...some people think you can have your cake and eat it.

      See also: anti-nuclear campaigners who also block wind farm sites and who also block fracking and who are also environmentalists

    2. No Quarter

      Re: NIMBYs

      Bit much to blame just rich bumpkins for nimbyism.

      Fear of wiggly microwave radiation frying brains is a syndrome suffered by a much wider demographic.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: NIMBYs

        I don't think it is anything to do with the "radiation" in most NIMBY minds - it is purely that they might have something industrial in their eyeline, which will (through some unknown mechanism*) bring property prices down.

        *In reality, prices are likely to go up if there is decent mobile coverage.

    3. David Beck

      Re: NIMBYs

      Villages don't generally have a problem, there is always a church or two where the mast can go into the spire. The networks don't like being forced to this as it costs more than just sticking a mast on a pole.

  10. John Robson Silver badge

    "Do you want decent mobile coverage or do you want a village untainted by modern transmission equipment? Pick one of two."

    Because we couldn't put one up that looked like a telephone pole, or used a street lamp, and looked like a rock.

    http://www.prattfamily.demon.co.uk/mikep/gsmnet.html

    There are some really good ways to make these things non intrusive.

    1. keithpeter
      Windows

      "There are some really good ways to make these things non intrusive."

      Just wondering: National Grid. Reaches just about everywhere. Large metal structures striding over fields. Could Grid not be used to relay mobile to anywhere within a fraction of a mile of the transmission line, or if leaky cable not feasible on that scale, to within fraction of a mile of the pylons?

      Am I being thick?

      1. ARGO

        "Am I being thick?"

        Leaky feeders wouldn't work over that distance, but there's already a telecom network running over the national grid - originally called Energis, then part of C&W, and now part of Vodafone. There are also plenty of base stations built on the side of pylons

    2. David Beck

      Church spires

      Almost every village has one, planners and networks don't like to use them for different reasons but can be convinced by "nimby'ism" to put them there even if it does cost more.

  11. Otto is a bear.

    Living in the Chilterns

    It always surprises me how bad reception is this close to London, and with so many population centres. When you do get a signal it's usually 2G anyway, Edge if you are lucky. I live about 1/2 mile from my O2 transmitter, and get a very poor signal. 5G won't make any difference, I can't see any network bothering with it outside urban areas, at a guess signal attenuation will be even worse, and reduce effective cell sizes even more.

    Maybe the ministry of fun could look into the provision of community masts, run by say civil parish councils, and available to all network providers. For parochial parish councils, you can get some very discreet masts for your church towers to help with the steeple fund.

    I suspect the hard to get to places will always have poor signals without public funds, but why is the signal round the M25 still so bad.

    PS - Geography is one thing, but there are such things as Micro and Pico cells for blind spots, and motorways and railways tend have network access along their length to the emergency phones if nothing else, so cable runs shouldn't be a problem, although the latter might have a problem with safety cases.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple are (almost) there with a software-defined SIM. This, together with a futures-market and spot-market for capacity, a smartphone from an MO-MVNO could easily associate to which ever network offered the optimal combination of signal strength/price available in the location.

    1. Chad H.

      Its not so much a software-defined SIM they use as a SIM that can be provisioned to multiple networks.

      Everyone else in the GSM alliance killed the soft-sim dead.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There is going to be a huge, tax-payer funded, build-out of 4G LTE masts and infrastructure covering 98% of Britain.

    This is the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP).

    There's no technical reason why(*), when bandwidth is available, tax-payers shouldn't be able to roam onto this network, which they'll have paid £££Bs for.

    (*) Retail users and emergency services share infrastructure in New Zealand

  14. Test Man

    "The engineers are envisaging how IP networks will handle voice in 2024 - and what kinds of devices will provide voice services 10 years from now. But the UK was the last leading economy to do 4G. Perhaps it is determined to be last with 5G, too."

    So in your world people can only do one thing at a time?

    *facepalm*

  15. trollied

    It's hilarious that rural communities don't want masts putting up, yet want a decent signal. I live in one of the most popular honeypots in the Peak District - signals are crappy. Yet a few miles up the road (hills in the way, I'm afraid) I've seen a new lamp post that looks like an oldskool bit of wood stuck in the ground - nobody has complained about the new mast, but the little green box next to it and the top are a bit of a giveaway. Good job the oldies can't see high enough to notice....

    Sorry, bit of a rant.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      "It's hilarious that rural communities don't want masts putting up, yet want a decent signal"

      You speak of the rural communities as if they are an individual.

      Of the many hundreds of thousands of rural dwellers, some want masts and signals, some don't.

      Those that want good signal but oppose masts number very few.

      The "rural communities" find your generalisation hilarious.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tesco are unlikely to make an "exit strategy" - they're 50% owned by o2.

  17. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    "I think that sometimes too, but then I to places like the US and Canada, and realise that while we may have annoyances with the mobile providers here, at least we're (relatively) only paying third-world prices for them."

    I hear ya'. The prices here in the states from the "better" carriers are atrocious. I would not have the service I have if I didn't have a grandfathered plan. The rates from "cheaper" carriers and MVNOs are still (generally) quite high compared to pricing almost anywhere else.

    " It cites the 2010 Ofcom paper, which says that seamless national roaming – where your call is handed over from (say) Vodafone to EE as you move along – is complex and expensive to implement, and reduces operator differentiation. It also hammers battery life, with the handset constantly looking for a better signal across any network it can find."

    *Live* handoffs (especially voice) *ARE* complex to implement. The cell site you are on has a neighbor list, and the cell site you are on must list the "other" carrier's cell sites on it's neighbor list; there has to be interconnection directly between the phone switches running the respective cell sites, since a in-handoff call has to be forwarded from one to the other without interruption. On the other hand, just using the PRL (preferrred roaming list) or ... whatever GSM calls the equivalent... to prefer your carrier, then list the other Uk carriers afterwards, is simple; calls will drop, but power use isn't a big issue; the phone doesn't even look for the other carriers until it's lost your carrier's signal. Inter-carrier handoff is almost never done here in the US (your phone will amost always prefer other carriers *if* it loses native service, but no handoff of calls; data sessions may or may not hand over.)

    "DCMS also acknowledges another difficulty: a handset would lose its weaker 3G or 4G signal after it glommed onto a stronger 2G signal."

    If it's done like here in the US (your carrier is preferred then the rest in some priority order), then there can be some variation based on phone firmware. Usually, the phone will hang onto the native signal until it's just about too weak to use, then switch to another carrier if available. (You could get native 2G at 1 bar even if there's 5 bars of 4G on another carrier. Sorry!) Usually, if you are roaming the phone periodically looks for (good enough) native service every couple minutes and switches back when it comes back. The firmware bugs I've read about, some phones will stick to a TOTALLY UNUSABLE native signal, people will have to like cup the phone in their hands or whatever to force it to lose that last bit of signal and roam; and some phones will be far too slow (like 15 minutes) switching back to native unless they reboot. But usually it's all pretty seamless. However, the "the phone hits a small coverage hole and goes right to 2G" is one reason why some phones have "2G only", "3G only", "3G/4G only" etc. selections.

  18. Dan Paul

    Fiberglass Pine Trees

    Here in the States where the NIMBY syndrome happens all the time, I have seen cell phone masts camoflaged as pine trees. They have an outside cover over the steel of the antenna mast that looks like bark and the actual emitters are covered by fake pine boughs. All the wiring is internal and the other infrastructure on the ground is contained in what looks like a wooden garden shed.

    I have also seen palm tree versions of the same towers for Florida and southern climes.

    They even make crosses for installation on churches, a welcome source of income for those who choose it.

    Cell towers don't HAVE to be ugly, the telco just needs to spend more money to put these more camoflaged towers or transmitters up. The local VA hospital, many tall buildings, various water towers, electric pylons have all been made into cell towers to make them more palatable.

    As mentioned before, our cell system initially was designed to follow major highways, so much so that any cell coverage map looked like a roadmap does, major cities with long narrow coverage between them. Now the map covers almost all of the country except the most remote areas.

    That's a lot more surface area than the UK and everything is 3G or 4G LTE.

    Coveragewise sounds like you are getting boned worse than we are.

  19. David Beck

    ... in remote rural areas, like, say, Chipping Norton...

    As a resident of said town I am surprised your correspondent failed to check the coverage maps before offering up Chippy as a "not spot". As I sit here in my study at the top of the hill I find I have excellent 3G coverage from both 3 and EE as well as excellent 4G (not a typo) from EE. Vodafone and O2 are offering some sort of signal but as I don't have a suitable SIM I'm not able to give further information.

    I do remember that the signals suddenly improved about the time Dave became party leader, but that was some time ago and I always thought it was because the journos complained.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not QUITE as difficult as implied

    It cites the 2010 Ofcom paper, which says that seamless national roaming – where your call is handed over from (say) Vodafone to EE as you move along – is complex and expensive to implement

    The Ofcom report also says that if you're OK with non-seamless roaming (eg handing off from one network to another during a call), ie much like international roaming, then it would cost peanuts - £15m per MNO.

  21. Tyson Key

    There's places without EDGE, let alone multi-operator 3G!

    This is interesting, living in a small-ish town on the outskirts of York (Boroughbridge), where there's only a single choice for 3G coverage (3), no 4G coverage, and no networks (save for Vodafone, near the motorway in some hotspots) offer even EDGE coverage. (And unless you've got a decent phone, GSM calls tend to sound like bubbling mud on some networks (O2), since reception's horrid).

    I'll believe these improvements when I see them...

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