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Nearly 30 million UK mobile users suffer in-home signal problems

Study finds more than half of UK mobile users regularly suffer signal problems at home, including calls dropping out, but a similar percentage do not check network coverage maps before signing up to a service

A year ago, business professionals would have regarded the lack of in-home mobile phone coverage as no more than an inconvenience in their working lives, but with remote working now firmly established in the new normal of the hybrid workforce, it matters hugely – and poor signal is now a business inhibitor and hugely widespread in the UK, according to research from Uswitch.com.

The study from the comparison and switching service was undertaken by Opinium, which surveyed 2,000 UK adults from 16-19 February 2021. Results were weighted to reflect nationally representative criteria.

The top-line finding was that more than half of UK mobile users – 29 million people – regularly suffer problems with the signal inside their homes and more than a quarter (27%) reported having to move to another room because of poor mobile reception, while one in seven (14%) simply left the house to seek a better signal.

As a result, almost one-fifth of people (19%) used a messaging service such as WhatsApp or iMessage instead of relying on traditional cellular voice.

Reception issues were found to be worst in semi-detached houses, with nearly one-third of residents (30%) enduring a substandard signal. Given that thick household walls and some types of insulation can interfere with how well mobile signals reach phones, people who had extended their property were more than twice as likely (63%) to suffer constant problems with their mobile reception than those who had not (31%).

Two-fifths (41%) of those with loft extensions also complained that calls dropped out regularly. Mobile users most commonly experienced problems in the living room, with almost two-fifths of people (39%) having signal issues there. The bedroom (31%) and kitchen (29%) were next worst, while one-tenth of those surveyed complained of poor reception in the toilet.

Uswitch.com also found that rural areas had the biggest problems with mobile reception and were almost 50% more likely than residents in suburbs to suffer failed calls. Two-fifths of residents living in the countryside complained of dropped calls, a level that fell to one-third (33%) in urban areas and just over a quarter (27%) in suburban regions.

Geographically, residents in London, Edinburgh and Belfast were found to be the most likely to endure failed calls because of signal issues, indicated by 18% for each city, followed by Newcastle (17%), Bristol (16%) and Birmingham (14%). Brighton and Norwich each scored 13%, with Plymouth and Nottingham both on 11%.

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In terms of operators, 18% of EE customers complained that they had experienced calls dropping out, followed by O2 (15%), Vodafone (14%) and Virgin Mobile (11%). Tesco Mobile and Three customers were on 8% while giffgaff and BT Mobile were on 6%. When mobile users asked their provider for help with reception issues, more than one-third (37%) were recommended to make calls over their Wi-Fi instead. But although nearly two-fifths of mobile users (39%) regularly used Wi-Fi calling, more than one-third (35%) did not know what it was.

In a call to action from its research, Uswitch.com urged consumers to check the network coverage in their area before choosing a supplier, and consult providers’ coverage maps to make an informed choice. It added that many people were making a rod for their own back by failing to research the signal strength in their area. Indeed, more than half of mobile users (51%) did not check the coverage in their area before choosing a provider.

“There is nothing more frustrating than having to march around your home in a vain bid to get a decent signal, but it’s a struggle experienced by 30 million of us,” said Ru Bhikha, telecoms expert at Uswitch.com. “The digital divide stubbornly persists, with residents in rural areas almost 50% more likely to suffer dropped calls than those in suburban areas.

“The mobile reception in your home will be determined by a huge number of factors, including the coverage in your area, the thickness of your walls and the presence of materials that can block the signal. However, the quickest way of ensuring you have the strongest mobile reception possible is to check network coverage maps before you sign up with a provider. It takes only five minutes and could help you find which network has the best signal in your area.”

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