MPs push for intra-country roaming to help sustain coverage

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/KristinaJovanovic)

In a bid to help users who suffer from coverage black spots, a group of MPs are calling for mobile networks to switch temporarily over to a rival provider if they have coverage for an 'intra-country roaming' system. 

Close to 100 MPs are part of the group who point out foreign visitors often have better coverage than native citizens due to roaming agreements which enable switching between networks dependent on who offers the best coverage. 

The group calls itself the British Infrastructure Group (BIG) and is led by MP Grant Shapps. BIG highlights the fact 17 million UK mobile customers have poor reception at home, while 525 areas in the country suffer from no coverage whatsoever. 

"Although the British mobile communications sector has flourished through sustained private sector investment, comparing favourably with EU markets in terms of service costs and technological advances, visitors to Britain have consistently enjoyed better and broader mobile coverage," said the BIG Mobile Coverage: A Good Call for Britain? report (PDF). 

The UK government negotiated a deal with the four major operators in the country for a £5 billion spend agreement towards improving rural mobile coverage. As part of the deal, operators guaranteed 2G coverage would reach 90 percent of the country by 2017. Coverage for 3G and 4G services must reach at least 85 percent of the UK by the same year. 

With the operators unlikely to meet their agreement, the BIG report highlights this failure and points to intra-country roaming as helping to alleviate the coverage issues faced by some users. "This report takes a second look at the costs and benefits of national roaming and urges the government to reconsider this approach on a smaller scale in areas severely affected by ‘not spots'," it says. 

Further aims of the group include making it cheaper for customers to switch provider and identifying the worst networks to offer a more competitive service for the nation. As such, the BIG wants to give more power to regulator Ofcom to hold operators accountable. 

"This BIG report also urges the passage of the Digital Economy Bill to kick-start much-needed reforms to the Electronic Communications Code and to provide Ofcom with the ability to ensure that mobile operators become accountable to consumers." 

Prime Minister Theresa May was against the idea of intra-country roaming during her tenure as Home Secretary under fears it would make it more difficult for security agencies to keep track of criminals if they're switching between networks. May's lack of support for the proposals could mean it's DOA (Dead On Arrival.) 

Do you support the idea of intra-country roaming between networks? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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