UK has 'worse 4G coverage than Albania and Peru'

Britain is lagging behind "in digital slow lane", finds infrastructure report

4G transmitter

The UK has worse mobile coverage than 53 countries around the world, according to a report published today by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The UK's 4G network is said to be worse than that in countries such as Romania, Albania, Panama and Peru.

The NIC found the UK to be 54th in the world for 4G, with an average user only being able to access 4G connectivity 53% of the time. Spots where 4G does not reach appear to be common even within city centres.

NIC chairman Lord Adonis said: "Our roads and railways can feel like digital deserts and even our city centres are plagued by not spots where connectivity is impossible. That isn't just frustrating, it is increasingly holding British business back as more and more of our economy requires a connected workforce."

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With 93% of adults in the UK owning a mobile phone, mobile connectivity has become increasingly important. NIC urged the government and broadband regulator Ofcom to ensure that basic services, such as talk, text and data, are available everywhere, to prepare the UK for 5G as quickly as possible.

Will Stewart, VP of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), called for "urgent implementation" of the report's recommendations.

He added: "[The government must make] a quick decision on which government department will take ultimate responsibility for ensuring the UK has the broadband infrastructure required to put the UK in a stronger position to be global leader in the digital economy and associated innovation opportunities."

The report suggested the development of metrics that show the actual coverage accessible to mobile users, which should then be used to ensure essential services are accessible to mobile users by no later than 2025.

Lord Adonis said: "The existing system does not provide the level of coverage we will need in our connected future. We need a new universal service obligation which ensures that the mobile essentials - like text, talk and data - are available to us wherever we need them."

Ofcom agreed that the mobile coverage in the UK needs improvement. An Ofcom spokesperson said: "We're pleased the NIC shares our ambition for universal coverage. Our rules mean that virtually all UK premises must receive a 4G signal by the end of next year, and we're also making more airwaves available to boost mobile broadband. Last month, we challenged mobile operators to explore how to reach all remote areas and transport lines."

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In order to be 5G ready, the Commission says motorways and key rail routes should improve in connectivity. Similarly, local authorities and network providers will need to collaborate to ensure that towns and cities have adequate 4G coverage.

"5G is the future - ultra-fast, and ultra-reliable it has the potential to change our lives and our economy in ways we cannot even imagine today. But the UK is currently languishing in the digital slow lane," added Lord Adonis. "From connected vehicles to the internet of things, 5G will support a whole new way of communicating and doing business. The UK must not be left behind."

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