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EE calls on competitors to commit to clarify coverage

EE CEO Marc Allera calls on his competitors to get behind a new proposal to offer better information on the geographical extent of mobile coverage around the UK

Marc Allera, CEO of BT-backed mobile network operator (MNO) EE, has called on rival networks O2, Three and Vodafone to commit to providing their customers with more accurate information about the geographical extent of their 4G coverage.

Allera said an EE survey of 4,000 UK mobile users had revealed a sense of confusion about mobile network coverage, and led to false expectations about where they could make calls and use data.

He pledged to report all of EE’s coverage in geographic terms from January 2017 – although he was vague on how that measure would work or how detailed it would be – and called on the CEOs of his competitors to join him in this aim, and on Ofcom to throw its support behind the idea.

“Today, people think they will get mobile coverage absolutely everywhere, because as an industry we’ve talked about coverage with confusing population metrics and language that sets the wrong expectations. Too often, the customer experience has been very different from the marketing. That has to stop,” he said.

“We’re asking our peers and the mobile industry to get ‘Clear on Coverage’. All operators should publish clearer geographic coverage information, and we’re seeking support from Ofcom as the independent source of information on mobile coverage and quality.

“We want to make it easier and clearer for consumers to know where they will and won’t get coverage, and which network is the right one for them,” added Allera.

Allera was speaking as EE switched on new 800MHz low-frequency 4G services at 700 sites, taking its geographical coverage to 75% of the UK.

The operator said this switch-on had filled in 5,000 km2 of 4G not-spots at a stroke, covering swathes of Berkshire, Derbyshire, Glasgow, Oban, Shropshire, Snowdonia and Somerset with coverage for the first time, and improved indoor signal in 500,000 homes. It means to equip 3,000 more mobile masts with 800MHz spectrum by the end of 2017.

Read more about 4G in rural areas

Shaun Collins, CEO at analyst firm CCS Insight, said the plan to provide more clarity on the geographic extend of coverage was long overdue, and urged Ofcom to take the idea seriously, despite it being a rather complex undertaking.

“In offering to part-fund the scheme through Ofcom, EE is making it difficult for Ofcom to dismiss the idea as too complex,” said Collins. “If, as EE claims, it has the best network in the UK, it may be difficult to persuade its competitors to the scheme in the short run.

“It’s no surprise to see this from EE which has largely been selling its network quality and coverage to UK consumers,” he added.

Sarah Lee, head of policy at the Countryside Alliance, also welcomed Allera’s proposals, particularly as the lack of information on geographical network coverage tended to be far more acute in rural areas.

“We believe that the move towards reporting all coverage in geographic terms by January 2017 is a step in the right direction and has the potential to offer significant benefits to rural consumers,” said Lee.

“The Countryside Alliance have long believed that the population-based approach to monitoring coverage has failed consumers in rural areas,” she said.

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